The YA novel Percy Jackson And The Olympians came out in 2005 and was an immediate hit, because it takes Greek mythology and brings it into a 21st century context, with a very human half-blood preteen at the story’s center. The book series continues to be popular, which is why the announcement of a Disney+ series got so much attention. Will the streaming series satisfy fans of the books?
Opening Shot: Murky, storm-filled skies. A 12-year-old kid says in voice over, “Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. Being a half-blood is dangerous.”
The Gist: Perseus “Percy” Jackson (Walker Scobell) has always seen things other kids haven’t, like strange creatures wandering around Manhattan outside the window of his school. It’s led him to a pretty lonely existence in whatever school he was in, until Grover Underwood (Aryan Simhadri) came around; the two of them bonded over weird characters, like the ones on Grover’s game cards. By the time they were both 12, they were best friends. But the visions Percy was seeing were becoming more real… and scarier.
At a field trip to The Met, Percy looks at a statue of Perseus and remembers what his mother Sally (Virginia Kull) told him about why he was named after the great Greek warrior. It was among the many Greek mythology stories he told her, but she emphasized that the people perceived as monsters might not be, just like the ones perceived as heroes might not be so heroic.
After an incident where the girl who has been bullying her gets launched into a fountain outside the museum, though Percy says he never touched her, his math teacher, Ms. Dodds (Megan Mullally) takes notice, transforms into a winged demon, and attacks him. When Percy comes to, though, no one has seen what happened, and his Latin teacher, Mr. Brunner (Glynn Turman) says that he never heard of Ms. Dodds.
Percy gets expelled from school after Grover tells the headmaster that he saw Percy push the bully into the fountain. After that betrayal, Percy has no idea who he can trust, but before he leaves school, Mr. Brunner gives him a pen, which he says is a “powerful weapon”.
When he gets back to his apartment, he has to deal with his annoying, abusive stepfather Gabe (Timm Sharp), whom Sally seems to know how to handle. She tells Gabe that she and Percy are going to go to the Montauk cabin they regularly rent to talk things out.
There, Percy finds out the truth, though he can hardly believe it: Percy’s father is a Greek god, making him a demigod, or half-blood. He’s at the age where the little things he perceived as a kid are not real and dangerous, and now there will be other monsters coming after him now they know where he is.
Before he can even process this information, Grover knocks on the door, sporting a pair of goat legs. Percy finds out that his best friend is actually a satyr, sent by the gods to protect him; there is something called “the mist” that obscures all of the mythical world from humans, including the fact that Grover is half-goat. Because Percy has been discovered, Grover has come early to take Percy to Camp Half-Blood, where he will be protected from monsters. But as a tighty-whitey-wearing minotaur chases Percy, Grover and Sally, Percy finds things about what he’s capable of that he never knew about. But someone else makes a sacrifice in the process.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Based on Rick Riordan’s series of novels, Percy Jackson And The Olympians plays out like one of the many superhero TV series that takes time to lay out the hero’s origin, discovery of his/her powers, and lay out the mission they have to undertake.
Our Take: There’s a reason why Disney+ has premiered the first two episodes of Percy Jackson And The Olympians, created by Riordan, with Jonathan E. Steinberg and Dan Shotz as the showrunners. It takes both episodes to give viewers an idea of who Percy is, which god is his father, what his quest will be, and just who will go on that quest with him. In episode 2, we see him get settled at Camp Half-Blood, where he’s introduced to Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries), the daughter of Athena and the camp’s best warrior; Dionysus (Jason Mantzoukas), aka Mr. D, who is the camp director; Luke Castellon (Charlie Bushnell), a son of Hermes who becomes his mentor at camp; and Clarisse La Rue (Dior Goodjohn), a daughter of Ares who doubts Percy’s abilities.
It’s also there that he finds out his quest: To retrieve the thunderbolt of Zeus from Hades. Usually, when it takes two episodes and close to 90 minutes to get to the crux of what the season’s story is actually going to be, it usually causes us to tear out what little hair we have. But in the case of Percy Jackson, the time it took to get to that point was well spent.
In order to get us to buy into Percy’s quest, we needed to get to know Percy, as well as be in his corner as he gets introduced to the bewildering existence of being a demigod. We’re not teased with incident after incident of Percy exhibiting powers he is clueless about. We get an idea about how much of an outcast he felt at school, no matter how many people told him he was “special”. And when he gets to camp, and has no idea which god “claimed” him, the way he finds out flowed well from the action we saw before that.
By the end of the first episode, we want to root for Percy, and we want to see more of his mother Sally. There are characters that we hope we get to see more of later, just to get an idea of just why they’re there, like Percy’s jerky stepfather Gabe. But most of the characters we’ve seen through the first two episode are well-drawn enough to make us want to see more of the world Percy discovers as he goes on his quest.
What Age Group Is This For?: There’s some scary monsters and demons in this series, which leads us to think this would be appropriate for kids 9 and up.
Parting Shot: Percy wakes up after his battle with the minotaur and hears, “Welcome to camp, Percy Jackson. We’ve been waiting for you.” He vaguely sees a half-man, half-horse.
Sleeper Star: We don’t get introduced to Dior Goodjohn’s character Clarisse until episode 2, but she plays a key role in the quest Percy goes on, and we liked what we saw as soon as she showed up on screen.
Most Pilot-y Line: For some reason or another, Gabe owns a framed Zach Wilson jersey. Is that there to point out how truly lame Gabe is?
Our Call: STREAM IT. Percy Jackson And The Olympians tells a straightforward quest story with good writing and well-defined characters, but takes its time to set up Percy’s story without dragging the show to a halt.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.