Equal parts exciting and charming, the two pilot episodes are worth the decade-long wait.
Almost exactly a year after it was announced, the first two episodes of the highly anticipated small screen adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians dropped on Disney+ last Dec. 19—and both are very promising.
This is not the first time that Rick Riordan’s best-selling series—so popular it catapulted him to literary superstardom—has been adapted but it’s the first time the author is directly involved in the development, even co-writing the two pilot episodes with Jon Steinberg.
The first two adaptations of the first two novels in the series were both universally panned by critics. The Logan Lerman- starrer Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2010), for example, was so hated by Riordan that he famously tweeted in 2020, “They should censor the entire thing. Just two hours of blank screen. We’re gonna fix it soon.”
The “soon” finally happened a few days ago, with Percy Jackson and the Olympians premiering with a two-episode drop more than a decade after the second film, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, was released in theaters in August 2013.
The 10-year wait was worth it. At least after watching the first two episodes in what is expected to be an eight-part first season.
Before I proceed with my first impressions of the two-part premiere, I must admit it has been over 13 years since I read the book and watched the first film. I’m coming into the series almost like a newbie into Percy Jackson’s world, so I can only review the show based on its own merits and not on how faithful it is—or not—to Riordan’s text. Devoted fans of the books could take comfort in the critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, which states that the series is faithful to the source materials.
All righty, now that’s out of the way, I would like to say that with Riordan being hands-on in the casting department, the cast members seem to be perfect for their roles. Even though I remember little from the books and the movies, I can say that the actors—especially the lead trio—are how I imagined them to be brought to life from the pages of the books.
Percy is 12 years old in the book, so it makes sense for the showrunners to cast Walker Scobell (The Adam Project), who was only 12 when he bagged the role. It’s worth mentioning how Scobell has Elijah Wood’s innocent look in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, with his big blue eyes, curly hair, and soft facial features. This is way better compared with the casting of Lerman who was already 17 when he brought Percy Jackson to life in the first film.
An excited Riordan was the one who announced Scobell’s casting on his website, saying, “I got to deliver the news to Walker personally via Zoom back on Jan. 28 (2022) that he had been chosen for the part and it was a magical moment that made me feel for the first time, ‘Okay, this is real. This is worth all the waiting and the hard work. This project is going to be amazing.’”
Two episodes in, Riordan’s words have proven to be prophetic.
Completing the series’ main trio is Leah Sava Jeffries (Empire) as Athena’s daughter Annabeth Chase and Aryan Simhadri (Cheaper by the Dozen) as bestie Grover Underwood. The official Percy Jackson series X (formerly Twitter) account announced on May 5 that Riordan promises eager fans that they (trio) “will do you proud.”
Among the recurring cast members are Virginia Kull as Percy’s loving mother Sally; Glynn Turman as Chiron/Mr. Brunner, a centaur disguised as Percy’s Latin teacher; Jason Mantzoukas as Dionysus/Mr. D, the god of wine and director of Camp Half-Blood; Megan Mullally as Alecto/Mrs. Dodds, Percy’s pre-Algebra teacher who is also one of the three Furies; Timm Sharp as Gabe Ugliano, Percy’s idiotic stepfather; Dior Goodjohn as Clarisse La Rue, a daughter of Ares who bullies Percy; Charlie Bushnell as Luke Castellan, a skilled swordsman who is a son of Hermes; Adam Copeland as the god of war Ares; and Andrew Alvarez as Chris Rodriguez, son of Hermes and Luke’s half-brother.
Guest stars include the Lin Manuel-Miranda as the messenger of the gods Hermes; Olivea Morton as Nancy Bobofit, Percy’s human-world bully; Suzanne Cryer as Echidna, the mother of monsters; Jessica Parker Kennedy as the gorgon Medusa; Jay Duplass as Hades, the god of the underworld; Timothy Omundson as Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods; Toby Stephens as Poseidon, the god of the sea and Percy’s father; and Lance Reddick as Zeus, the king of the Olympians. This is Reddick’s final TV appearance, following his death in March 2023.
A thrilling two-part premiere
The first episode, titled I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher, introduces us to our pre-teen hero, a shy and bullied sixth grader at Yancy Academy, a fictional private boarding school, and his best friend Grover, who both describe themselves as belonging to the “bottom of the food chain.”
On a field trip to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mr. Brunner, his Latin teacher, gives Percy a pen (which is actually a sword named Riptide). After Nancy Bobofit, the class bully, throws sliced cheese at him and Grover, he “pushes” her into a water fountain, catching the attention of math teacher Mrs. Dodds, who reveals herself as a Fury. Percy stabs Mrs. Dodds with Riptide causing her to disintegrate. Percy returns home to his stepfather Gabe Ugliano—who isn’t as nasty as he was in The Lightning Thief—and mother Sally who takes him to their cabin in Montauk.
As Sally begins to tell Percy about the truth, that he is a demigod and that gods and monsters are real, Grover suddenly arrives in his actual satyr form, urging Sally to not waste time and move Percy to Camp Half-Blood. On their way to the camp, they are attacked by a Minotaur who “kills” Sally, causing Percy to slay it in a fit of rage. He collapses upon reaching the camp and is greeted by Chiron after he wakes.
The second episode, wittily titled I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom, opens with Percy waking up in the camp’s infirmary with Grover watching over him. He meets Dionysus (or Mr. D as he prefers to be called), the camp director, and finds out that Mr. Brunner is actually a centaur named Chiron.
Chiron places him in the Hermes cabin until he is claimed by his god-parent. In the camp, Percy meets several other campers and tries different activities to figure out his skills. Just as Percy starts to think he is a good-for-nothing, Clarisse and her minions bully him and force his head into the toilet, and Percy unwittingly fights them off with water.
Annabeth recruits Percy into her team for a game of capture the flag. As the game begins, Percy thwarts another attack by Clarisse and her friends, while the blue team, consisting of the Athena and Hermes cabins, wins.
Percy gets pushed by Annabeth into the lake, causing Percy’s wounds to heal, much to his disbelief. He is then claimed by the sea god Poseidon as his son, causing him to transfer to the Poseidon cabin. Percy is then told that Zeus has accused him of stealing his Master Bolt and that war will break out if it’s not returned within a week. And to do this, Percy must go on a quest.
Phew! That was a jam packed first two episodes! Though some might feel that the episodes feel a bit rushed and a tad crammed, I find the pace appropriate—it adds to the thrill of Percy finding out who he really is and the excitement for what lies ahead in his new reality where gods and monsters and other mythical creatures exist.
One crucial aspect that we were able to get a peek of, and something with which I’m quite satisfied, was the chemistry between Percy and Grover. It felt earnest and sincere. This is important as their trio—we have to see more Percy and Annabeth interactions, though—is central to the story, much like Harry, Hermione, and Ron are in the Harry Potter series.
Overall, the pilot episodes have gotten me excited for the next ones. The series so far has the right mix of charming and exciting, thrilling and heartwarming (Percy’s scenes with his mom tug at the heartstrings). Episode three, here I come!