Courtesy of Disney+

February 22, 2024

Overflowing with Untapped Potential: A Critical Review of Percy Jackson and the Olympians First Season

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“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.”

Such was the line that began The Lightning Thief, the first book of many that were to embody the famous, multi-series saga of half-bloods, monsters and gods. Welcome to the realm of Percy Jackson. 

If there’s anything we can all agree on, it’s that the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series is a childhood classic. From witty humor to action-packed fight scenes, with thrilling characters and a beautiful blend of modern magic, many fans consider the series one of the best stories of our time. 

Last December, the much-anticipated live-action adaptation finally aired on Disney+. This season covers the first book and serves as the introduction to what is to become a much larger series. It concluded on Jan. 30, garnering mixed but generally positive reactions. 

To put it simply, season one of Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a mediocre though promising start that falls short of fan expectations but heralds better in the coming season, which as of now does not have a release date but was confirmed on February 7.

The show stays true to the source material, with a few detrimental modifications — notably the avoidance of long fight scenes and a portrayal of magic that doesn’t quite reach the same level of humor and absurdity that it does in the books. Besides that, the casting is quite good, with stellar performances from Lance Reddick (Zeus), Dior Goodjohn (Clarisse) and Jason Mantzoukas (Mr. D). The series is a visual spectacle, and it’s refreshing to see the relationship dynamic between Percy, Annabeth and Grover play out on the screen. 

Unfortunately, the middle of the story is something of a narrative slog, and much of the beginning is spent on dolling out worldbuilding exposition. Most of this is done through conversations between our main cast, and at points, the overuse of said exposition becomes too egregious to ignore. Because the prophecy and quest at hand are prioritized over developing characters, none of the main characters are fully realized, as a large portion of the dialogue is used as a plot device rather than a tool to bring depth to the personalities and qualities of the main cast. This impedes characterization and subsequently undermines their character arcs, which should take the spotlight come season two. 

 This is likely because the writers were trying to fit as many scenes in the book as they could into this season, but they did so at the expense of developing the main characters, making the show feel rushed. Percy, Annabeth and Grover appear archetypal at best or without character entirely at worst. 

Of the three leads, Annabeth is given the most characterization. She takes on a quiet, cold and wise persona. Still, the reason behind her behavior is hardly explored beyond fleeting mentions of Thalia, Luke and her relationship with her mother. Ultimately, her sole purpose seems to be the voice of reason; her truly great moments are few and far between and don’t do her actress enough justice.

Worse, Grover is less of a character and more of a plot device. He is our primary source of comedic relief, but otherwise has little impact on the story itself. In addition, his humor (and by extension the humor present in the show) is quite bland and unoriginal in comparison to that present in the books. 

Percy is a complicated case. Everything seems to come easy to him in the show. He’s brave, knowledgeable and strong when he needs to be. Despite the odds stacked against him and his comrades, everything seems to eventually pan out in his favor without any internal change of character, which makes the show less profound and takes away from the depth of his character. This is a huge step down in comparison to the Percy we see in the book, who is instead framed as a conflicted, initially unconfident and less understanding kid who can’t come to terms with the fact that he truly is the son of a god, often despising his father and acting rashly as a result. 

The lackluster dialogue especially robs Percy as a character more than any other. What made the original story so enjoyable in the first place was Percy’s sarcasm. We hardly catch glimpses of any humor besides dry irony and pessimistic jokes. When jokes do come up, it tends to be during serious moments in the show, which renders the emotion as uncomfortable and melodramatic.

The show loses a fundamental part of the books, which is the inherently humorous nature of the original story. The books are narrated by Percy in first-person, who often adds a comical spin on the events that unfold through his perspective. The Percy in the show, by contrast, is much more serious, which as of now does not mirror the way that the show portrays everything else, making it come off as out of place. 

The show could also benefit from fixing its mixed tone. Walker’s dark portrayal of our leading man seems forced and sporadic when put to test amid the way the show centers around the themes of teamwork and friendship, both of which also suffer from the plot-packed dialogue.

Ultimately, the first season of Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a decent start. Although it stumbles in regards to creating the beginnings of compelling character arcs and fails to mirror the same level of hilariousness present in the books, it is a promising series that easily surpasses the 2010 movie adaptation, and will likely grow in narrative complexity as it continues.

Leah Badawi is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].