On Dec. 19, the long-awaited T.V. adaptation of Rick Riordan’s best-selling book series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” (PJO) premiered on Disney Plus and Hulu, with episodes one and two dropping simultaneously before settling into the streaming platform’s standard release schedule of one episode per week for the rest of the eight-part series.
The series focuses on 12-year-old Percy Jackson, whose life is thrown off-course when he learns that Greek gods are real and his absent birth father is the god of the sea, Poseidon. When he is accused of stealing Zeus’ master lightning bolt, Percy has to travel across the country on a quest to find the bolt and prove his innocence. Alongside him are Annabeth Chase, a strong-willed and matter-of-fact daughter of Athena, and Grover Underwood, Percy’s best friend who also happens to be a satyr, assigned to protect him from the demigod-hunting monsters around every corner.
Fans of Riordan’s books have been calling for another adaptation after the 2010 and 2013 movies by 20th Century Fox received slews of negative reviews from general audiences and even Riordan himself, who wrote an open letter to teachers in 2016 asking them not to show the movies during class time.
In late 2019, the author admitted that he was meeting with Disney executives about re-adapting the series for the screen. A television reboot was greenlit in January 2022 and began filming in June. By the time the series aired in December, years of growing excitement culminated in not only one of the top five season premieres of 2023 on Disney Plus and Hulu but also the biggest debut of any Disney-branded TV show, reaching over 13.3 million viewers.
The choice to film a T.V. series instead of remaking the movies allows the PJO team to cover more plot points from the book, something many long-time fans are excited to see after losing so much content to the ill-fated movies. The title of each episode is pulled straight from Riordan’s original book, with the first four episodes spanning the first 13 chapters of the book and the second half of the season dedicated to the last nine chapters.
A critical difference in the Disney Plus series is Riordan’s involvement as an executive producer on the series, a role he did not have during the production of the movies. Along with his wife, Becky Riordan, the author has participated in every part of the process, from helping pick the age-accurate actors to finalizing the script and
overseeing the filming.
The new “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” show works hard to stick close to the original books, with only the occasional diversion. The Riordans’ jobs were to act as a form of “oversight” to make sure that whatever changes were made were done to improve the overall plot and keep the spirit of the original work.
One of the most common complaints about the movies arose from the aged-up casting of the iconic demigod trio, who were supposed to be preteens and not 16-year-olds. With the TV reboot, Rick Riordan emphasized finding age-accurate actors to play the young heroes. Out of these efforts came the official onscreen trio of Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth, Aryan Simhadri as Grover and Walker Scobell as Percy.
In the book, Percy is 12 years old, the same age Scobell was when he auditioned for the role. By the time filming began, the actor was 13, still much more in alignment with the original character. Jeffries was the same age as Annabeth during the season’s filming, also 12 years old. The only character whose TV age does not match their book age is Grover, who is said to be 32 in the books. The loyal protector looks young despite age because satyrs age slower than humans and demigods. In the show, he is 24 and played by 16-year-old Simhadri.
Despite some differences in the actors from their book counterparts, their personalities come across clearly on screen. During the casting process, Riordan and the other producers all agreed that, regardless of the book’s character descriptions, none of them had a specific look in mind during the audition process. Rather than trying to find a perfect physical match, the team looked for kids who brought the characters to life.
Many book fans are realizing, as they watch the trio go through their perilous quest onscreen, that they might not have pictured the characters as young as they truly were, making the impact of much of the demigods’ hardships much greater when audiences see them as the children they are.
So far, Scobell, Jeffries and Simhadri have great chemistry both on and offscreen. Percy is trying to figure out two different worlds: the one of humans and the one of Greek mythology, all while trying to stay alive. Scobell almost effortlessly captures the character’s sarcastic sense of humor and lack of hesitation to point out things he believes are injustices, as well as portraying Percy’s neurodivergency without tokenizing or stereotyping the experience.
Annabeth starts the series as a no-nonsense, almost standoffish character, which Jeffries balances skillfully with the reality that Annabeth is still just a kid, despite her maturity. As audiences get to know Annabeth more, they see her character beginning to evolve as she starts to see Percy more as a friend and less as a
Simhadri is the oldest of the three, both as Grover and in real life. In the show, the satyr does his best to be cheerful and upbeat, and the touch of awkward skittishness Simhadri blends with his comforting nature has been making Grover a TV series fan favorite.
With the show officially at its halfway point at the time this article was written, it is doing immensely better than its disgraced movie predecessors, currently with a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and positive reviews from critics, long-time book fans and newer general audiences. If there is anything to be said, it is that “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is truly on a quest for greatness.
New episodes of the show premiere every Tuesday night on Disney Plus and Hulu.