Review: Alumnus Rick Riordan Brings Beloved Characters to the Small Screen

Walker Scobell in episode 1×02.

Reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series was surely a formative experience for many Texas Exes—whether you read it as you grew up or to your kids (and in some cases, both). The series follows demigod Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon, and his friends as he fights the monsters of myths and manages the drama of the Gods all the while dealing with the basic awkwardness of being a teenager. For this writer, the Percy Jackson series—along with the five-book follow-up series, The Heroes of Olympus—made the ancient world so interesting, I ended up studying Latin for seven years. 

Author Rick Riordan, BA ’86, Life Member, taught middle school in Texas and the Bay Area for years, which gave him the insight he needed to create young, relatable characters like Percy, Annabeth, and Grover. Riordan has also written various adult mysteries and other children’s series with mythology from different cultures tied into each. These series include: the Kane Chronicles (Ancient Egyptian mythology), The Heroes of Olympus (Greek and Roman), Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (Norse), and The Apollo Trials (more Greek mythology).

After two disappointing movie adaptations for Percy Jackson and the Olympians (the first of which Riordan himself described as “terrible” in notes to the producers about the script in 2009), the beloved series and characters were picked up again by Disney+, and the first two episodes of the eight-episode series were released on Dec. 19, 2023. This first season spanned the entirety of the first book, The Lightning Thief. 

In this first season, Percy goes on a dangerous quest with his friends Annabeth and Grover to find and return Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt before a war among the Gods wreaks havoc on the mythical and real world.

The show did not disappoint, but to call it a perfect replication of the first book would be unfair to loyal readers. Co-creators Riordan and Jonathen E. Steinburg ensured the storyline and character arcs followed closely to the novel, but specific details of the characters’ quest were slightly different, leaving fans of the book series with some surprises still.  

From left, Aryan Simhandri, Walker Scobell, and Leah Jeffries.

The actors Walker Scobell (Percy) (known for his role as a younger Ryan Renolds in The Adam Project), Leah Jeffries (Annabeth), and Aryan Simhandri (Grover) captured their characters perfectly. Scobell provided the same sass and goofiness that Percy has in the books and showed just the right amount of awkwardness that any 12-year-old boy would have. Jeffries represented Annabeth’s skepticism and wit well in her first interactions with Scobell as Percy, and Simhandri simply nailed the sweet, lovable satyr that Grover is in the books. Riordan’s hand in the casting and production of the series was evident and made audiences feel like his characters really did come to life in these actors. 

Directed by Anders Engström, Jet Wilkinson, and James Bobin, the biggest drawback of the show was the lighting. There were moments when you could hardly see what was happening because the scene was so dimly lit. This writer found herself fumbling for the remote to make sure the brightness was all the way up in a few specific scenes. 

Other than the poor lighting in moments, the visual production was wonderful. The animation of the monsters and mythological creatures fit right into the scenes, and the weapons and armor were surprisingly realistic.  

The biggest adjustment from the first movie adaptation was the age of the characters. In the 20th Century Fox’s 2013 production of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, the characters were aged from 12 (how old they are in the books) to 16. This was one of Riordan’s biggest complaints to the original producers (he shared his conversation with the producers of the movie on his website).

The second biggest improvement from the movie to the show was the proper tribute to secondary characters like Clarisse La Rue, daughter of Ares, and Mr. D, aka Dionysus, played by Dior Goodjohn and Jason Mantzoukas, respectively. Goodjohn gave an appropriately intimidating and powerful performance as Clarisse, setting up the character for a bigger role in a second season (hopefully coming soon). Jason Mantzoukas is no stranger to the big screen and brought just the right amount of disdain, humor, and nuttiness to the god of wine, Dionysus. Almost every aspect of this series was an improvement on the 20th century Fox movies—casting, writing, and production. 

All around, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is a wonderful, family-friendly adventure. Even with a few changes to the story, Riordan’s involvement at every stage is a testament to his intentionality and perhaps retroactive desires from the first adaptation. This series is clearly a successful adaptation of the books with Riordan’s vision and voice kept throughout.  

And if you’re watching the series for the first time soon or rereading the books in anticipation of a second season, we hope you enjoy supporting this Longhorn’s whole new world of creativity. 

CREDIT: Disney+


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