Percy Jackson revival slaps in the wake of the PJO movies
A grandmother takes her grandson to the sea for the first time. He is dressed in a smart sailor suit and excited to play in the waves. As he plays, the waves sweep him up. The grandmother prays and begs God, asking for her grandchild back. God obliges, and he is swept back to shore. After examining her grandchild, the grandmother hollers back to God, “He had a hat!”
In episode six of the new “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” Disney+ series, we hear Hermes (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda) tell the punchline of this old joke. When I think about all the things the show took away, added or changed from the book, this joke shows me that at the core this is the same piece of fiction I read at age 12. The theme of this joke, the Percy Jackson book and The Percy Jackson show are all the same: We can argue with or demand things from God.
The tale of a wayward demigod, the “Percy Jackson” mini-series is about a young boy of the same name (played by Walker Scobell) being thrown into the world of the Greek Gods.
Percy must adjust to the fact that all the myths he was told growing up are true and they want to kill him. After Zeus (played by Lance Reddick) accuses Percy of stealing his master bolt, he is sent on a quest to retrieve this magical object before the summer solstice to prevent a war from breaking out between the gods. Accompanied by the determined daughter of Athena, Annabeth Chase (played by Leah Jeffries), and the loyal satyr, Grover (played by Aryan Simhadri), Percy faces many monsters and angry gods on his life-risking quest.
From its inception, the “Percy Jackson” book series has been about arguing with the Greek gods, or more broadly, authority. It’s also about going against expectations, finding beauty in differences and finding yourself. All themes that the show does a great job of carrying over.
The show’s set design alone was magical. Beautiful Greek and Roman architecture were featured throughout the series. Camp Half-Blood, Olympus and The Underworld are all beautiful sets in different ways. Each set lived up to the images I had in my head and worked in tandem with lighting to develop the emotions of the scenes they were featured in. In this way and more, the show brought the books to life.
I was glad to see that the show didn’t hesitate to make changes from the books. It allowed the story to strengthen many of the aspects that were great about it in the first place.
Getting scenes of Percy and his mom growing up beautifully emphasizes love and loyalty. Showing Medusa as a more complex villain forces the viewer to understand that everything is not black and white much earlier in the story, as does Athena’s punishment for Annabeth after they send Medusa’s head to Olympus. Just like all of the changes the show made, this one is extremely purposeful, and while I was fuming at Athena, I thought it was such a smart storytelling effort.
Unlike the book, the show pulls no punches when portraying the gods. It acknowledges that “gray area” gods exist and while not all the gods are bad, it showcases how truly ugly their absent and abrasive parenting style can be. I think this is a great setup to make the oncoming war much more intense as the villains become more sympathetic when you highlight the faults of the side our hero is fighting for.
Overall, the changes were positive, but some were just not necessary or just not my cup of tea.
First, having the Lightning Thief trio miss the summer solstice deadline did not add tension as hoped but instead took it away. It felt like they could take as long as they needed because they were already late. This change was just not necessary. They could have gotten out of the Lotus Hotel and Casino with time to spare, similar to in the books, and still have had the audience on the edge of their seats.
The problems a lot of fans have speak to a larger issue with the show: too much telling and not enough showing. Hermes gives them all the answers. In the book, every time the trio had to figure out something while on a quest was also a time of character growth.
I look to season one as a stepping stone though. I am hopeful that without so much necessary exposition, various character dynamics and world-building efforts can be done in more creative ways. I also return to the idea that the core of what Percy Jackson is, is in every corner of the show. The themes and imagery are so powerful and sure it can be preachy sometimes because they are very direct with the writing, but sometimes 12-year-olds need to hear a message loud and clear.
To say I was excited when Disney announced their new show was an understatement. I wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted my grandson washed ashore with his hat on his head and nothing less. I thought it all had to be just so for me to enjoy the show, but I ended up being able to simply enjoy the show for what it was and not what the book told me it should be.
I would have to say the Percy Jackson show granted my wish for a new generation of Percy Jackson fans. I am hopeful we will continue to see the series blossom over time and pull the viewer into the world of Greek myths in fun and modern ways.