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December 20, 2023 / Disney+

Starring: Walker Scobell​, Leah Jeffries, Aryan Simhadri

Developed By: Rick Riordan​, Jonathan E. Steinberg

Percy Jackson is on a dangerous quest. Outrunning monsters and outwitting gods, he must journey across America to return Zeus’ master bolt and stop an all-out war. After losing his mother, Percy is sheltered at Camp Half-Blood, a sanctuary for demigod children. He must prove himself and confront his origins once he discovers he too is a demigod, and will take off into the perils of pursuing enemies in search of the Underworld. With the help of his quest mates Annabeth and Grover, Percy’s journey will lead him closer to the answers he seeks: how to fit into a world where he feels out of place, if he'll ever see his mother again, and if he can ever find out who he’s destined to be.

FIRST LOOK REVIEW: Episodes 1 Through 2 (8) By Darren Zakus

Rating 4.5 out of 5

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is an incredibly faithful adaptation of Rick Riordan’s best selling novel The Lightning Thief, delivering an exciting and hilarious adventure led by the winning performances of Walker Scobell, Leah Jeffries and Aryan Simhardri, giving fans the adaptation they have been waiting a long time for.

When readers were first introduced to young Percy Jackson back in 2005, no one could have predicted how successful and beloved of a character he would become. The initial book series ran for five novels, and spawned spinoff series set in the same world, selling over millions of copies, and was previously adapted for the big screen back in 2010 and a successful Off-Broadway musical. But what fans have been missing is a truly faithful adaptation that captured the wonder and excitement of Riordan’s storytelling. But when Disney acquired Fox, they inherited the rights to Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and very quickly announced a Disney+ television series adaptation, with Riordan being heavily involved in the creative direction of this adaptation unlike the film. The results are an excellent adaptation of the first novel in the series, The Lightning Thief, with the superb casting of Walker Scobell, Leah Jeffries and Aryan Simhardri as the series' heroes, that based on the episodes provided to press before the series’ release, signals a massive hit for Disney.

Percy always thought that his ADHD and struggles at school were normal, but Percy learns that he is far from a normal kid. In fact, he learns that the Greek Gods of Mount Olympus and the various heroes and monsters of Greek mythology are real, and that he is what is known as a demi-god: a half-human descendent of a Greek god. But, with evil forces after Percy, he seeks refuge at Camp Half-Blood where he learns about his ancestry and better understands his world. While at camp, Percy learns that Zeus’s master bolt has been stolen, and that he is the suspected thief. To clear his name, Percy must travel across America on a quest to find Zeus’s bolt and journey to the Underworld alongside his friends Annabeth and Grover, outwitting gods and outrunning monsters who want to prevent Percy from completing his quest.

The success of Percy Jackson and the Olympians as a series lies with the actors cast in the roles of Percy, Annabeth and Grover, and they have struck gold here with Scobell, Jefferies and Simhardri. Scobell lights up the screen as Percy, easily capturing Percy’s humorous tendencies, but also his fiercely loyal personality towards his friends and his family. Most famously known for playing a younger version of Ryan Reynolds in The Adam Project, Scobell is a true star and his performance commands your attention as he fully transforms into this young hero in front of your eyes on screen. Jeffries captures the wisdom of Annabeth and her tough as nails personality, bringing a perfect contrast to the optimistic hero in Percy. Having lived longer knowing of the existence of the gods and monsters, Jeffries encompasses Annabeth’s disapproval towards how their world works and her caution to any potential threat. At the same time, she brings a warmth and passion to Annabeth that you slowly get to see more and more of as Percy becomes friends with her. Simhardri brings a good amount of comedic relief with Grover’s nervous energy to the series, but his caring for his friends makes Grover a dedicated friend that defines his performance. As a trio, Scobell, Jefferies and Simhardri have an instant connection on screen. It's like magic watching them interact as they instantly create the trio that leads the series with an effortless chemistry, wonderful banter between themselves, and a friendship that feels truly authentic and not a performance. With Scobell, Jefferies and Simhardri in the lead roles, the series is in perfect hands as you immediately see Percy, Annabeth and Grover in each of them.

While this is Percy, Annabeth and Grover’s story, there are many memorable adult characters that they encounter on their quest. The series features an impressive cast of older actors bringing gravitas and knowledge to the series. In the first two episodes alone, Glynn Turman is wonderful as Chiron/Mr. Brunner, Megan Mullaly chews up her moments with a wickedness as Mrs. Dodds, and Jason Mantzoukas is hilarious as Dionysus, the god of wine forbidden from drinking alcohol again and attempting to trick the demigods into fetching him alcohol. It’s merely a taste of the adult actors set to portray the various gods and monsters that Percy encounters on his quest, but if these three performances are any indication of what is to come, the showrunners have nailed the casting.

While Riordan’s novel is not incredibly long at 377 pages in length, there is a lot of content in it. The novel introduces younger readers to the expansive stories of Greek mythology, including the gods, some of its most infamous monsters such as Medusa and the Minotaur, and the notable heroes of the legends, and the various conflicts between all of the players. That alone is a massive topic, and Riordan not only does that, but adapts these stories to a modern setting with the key players of the story being new characters: children of the gods known as demi-gods. All of this is done in conjunction with the new story that Riordan tells focusing on Percy, Annabeth and Grover and their quest to find Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt. There is more than enough material to populate this eight episode season, and with Riordan as a writer and executive producer of the series, the series is truthful to the novels. Unlike the film adaptation which was restricted by time, the eight episodes gives time for Riordan’s story in its entirety to be told: the world building is expansive, each episode has an exciting centre piece while developing the characters and focusing on their friendship, while also dropping small details that are setting up larger story elements for future novels in the series. And much like the novels, the series maintains their humorous tone (including the episode titles which resemble the chapter titles from the novel), that made this not only an epic adventure for readers, but one that left them laughing out loud while reading. Based on the episodes provided for review, this is the gold standard for adapting a beloved literary work that will be a hit amongst fans and newcomers alike.

Within minutes of the first episode, the high production value of the series immediately shows. The CGI to make the mythological creatures a reality is excellent, adding a sense of wonder with creatures like centaurs and satyrs and a sense of danger with all the adversaries sent after Percy and his friends. Shot locally in Vancouver, Canada, the locations bring to life Camp Half-Blood, while the set design brings to life both the modern world and the Greek mythology aspects that Percy encounters on his quest, fully immersing the audience in the adventure.

As a big fan of the novel series, I am happy to report that Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a near perfect adaptation that will no doubt become the new crowning jewel of the Disney+ streaming service. Led by the pitch perfect casting of Walker Scobell, Leah Jeffries and Aryan Simhardri as Percy, Annabeth and Grover, Rick Riordan’s story comes to life without losing any bit of the magic that made The Lightning Thief a best seller, when paired with great casting and a faithful screenplay that does not sacrifice a moment of the novel, makes Percy Jackson and the Olympians one of the final must watch series of 2023!

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