A Review of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians Television Series

Above: Photo of Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson. Courtesy of Alamy.

A Review of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians Television Series

By Erin Schott  


Warning: This piece contains spoilers about the Percy Jackson television series.


Students typically become classics majors by one of two routes: either their parents force them to take Latin in high school (my situation), or they read Percy Jackson. Rick Riordan’s popular book series provides an easy, fun entry point into the world of Greek mythology for young readers. Recognizing the series’ potential to draw in new majors, the Penn Classical Studies department offers a freshman course centered around Percy Jackson, and on March 20, the Penn Classics Board held a read-a-thon of The Lightning Thief. Given the importance of this book series for sustaining a declining field, classicists eagerly anticipated the Disney+ television adaptation, believing it could inspire the next generation of classicists.

The Disney television series was not the first attempt to adapt Percy Jackson to the screen. In 2010, 20th Century Fox released a Chris Columbus-directed film version of The Lightning Thief, and a sequel followed several years later. Due in part to criticism that these movies deviated substantially from the original books, the film series was canceled before the five-story Percy Jackson and the Olympians series could be told in full. Even Riordan disliked the first film, denouncing the script as “terrible” and claiming it was almost “unrecognizable” from the stories he had written.[1] Such critiques are common for adaptations to receive. Some loyalists will argue every minute detail of the original must be included, while other fans will argue that an adaptation should, as its name suggests, adapt a piece, creating its own unique spin. Because the Percy Jackson movies flopped, the television series was all the more eagerly awaited, and fans hoped that with Riordan’s more hands-on involvement, this adaptation could successfully thread the needle between being a recognizable but creative rendition of the books.

With its eight episodes, each about half an hour in length, the television series had the opportunity to tell the story of The Lightning Thief in more detail than a movie. That extra time makes it all the more disappointing that the pacing of the story feels wrong. Pivotal fight sequences like the duel with Luke in the final episode are over in a matter of seconds, while the creators added multiple scenes fleshing out Percy’s upbringing that were not in the original book and seem repetitive. The trio’s visit to the Lotus Casino, which lasts an entire episode, ironically feels like an eternity for the viewer as well—and yet the children are never shown having fun (or even jamming out to “Poker Face” like in the movies). The timing throughout the series feels choppy and perhaps could be improved in the upcoming season if the writers get audience input on the most exciting moments from The Sea of Monsters (cough, cough, the dodgeball scene with Tyson) and allocate more time to depicting these scenes in detail.

Another overarching issue with the television series is the rising tension, or lack thereof. In the book series, the trio typically encounters a monster and slowly pieces together its identity from clues, but in the television series, this seldom happens. For example, in the case of Medusa, the children discover the monster’s identity before even encountering her, whereas with Echidna, the monster informs them of her name. These moments detract from the viewing experience by denying the audience a chance to deduce the monster’s identity for themselves, thereby eliminating the mystery element of the books. Oftentimes, as a reader, my favorite moments in The Lightning Thief were when it gradually dawned upon the protagonists just what monster they were being forced to fight, and with the television series, such moments of horrified realization are few and far between.

Despite its poor pacing and lack of tension, the series did have some encouraging moments, enough that I watched it to the end of the season. Virginia Kull does a tremendous job in her role as Sally Jackson, portraying a mother who is loving and funny yet firm with her son. Even if the child acting at times feels stiff, the kids show promise in other moments, such as when Grover rallies Annabeth and Percy to work as a team in the third episode. Crucially, unlike the films, the television show is a recognizable adaptation of the books. Decisions to deviate from the Lightning Thief sometimes—if not always—make sense. For example, the screenwriters removed an inconsequential scorpion from the fight with Luke and ended the series with a dream of Kronos, creating a cliffhanger that foreshadows the greater war to come.

Overall, the series has issues to sort out, but there is also potential, especially since the child actors are sure to improve as they gain more acting experience. Disney has already renewed the adaptation for a second season, so hopefully, the show’s writers will take constructive criticism into account as they develop the storyline for The Sea of Monsters. The stakes are nothing if not high, as the show could inspire the next generation of classicists.


Erin Schott is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Classical Studies and English. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Discentes.


End Notes

[1] Rick Riordan, “Memories from My TV/Movie Experience,” The Online World of Rick Riordan, 16 Nov. 2018, rickriordan.com/2018/11/memories-from-my-tv-movie-experience/.



Riordan, Rick. “Memories from My TV/Movie Experience.” The Online World of Rick Riordan, 16 Nov. 2018, rickriordan.com/2018/11/memories-from-my-tv-movie-experience/.