“Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief” is a classic loved by all ages. Some were in middle school when they started the series while others were only eight. For two decades, fans begged the author, Rick Riordan, to oversee a proper live-action adaptation. The failed movies came and went, but what about something plot-accurate? What about age-accurate actors that made the trio come to life? Why didn’t Riordan have a direct hand in production?
These questions are what Riordan had in mind for the new Disney+ adaptation. He oversaw everything: the casting, the script and the set. He felt he owed it to fans who waited ages for something concrete they could feast their eyes on. Before he knew it, he had cast his three main leads.
The show premiered in December with the Internet buzzing in excitement the moment the first two episodes were available. And then it started: “Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.”
The first episode was magical. It starts with Percy’s monologue about a tough childhood, just as the novel did. Percy never had friends; everyone thought he was crazy for seeing otherworldly beings. Then he met Grover in Yancy Academy and they became best friends. Percy proceeds to learn he was, in fact, not imagining things and is attacked by a mythical creature. Thus begins the hero’s journey of encountering a second, hidden world.
The episode ends with the emotional moment the Minotaur captures and “kills” Percy’s mother. The emotion swells up an overwhelming amount and the viewer feels the same amount of loss Percy felt.
Virginia Kull interpreted Sally Jackson phenomenally. Even though Sally has always been a fan favorite, Kull put a certain amount of love, life and depth into the character that Riordan had not done in the books.
In the behind-the-scenes documentary “A Hero’s Journey: The Making of Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” Kull explained how she took on the role because of her godson. She puts her love into the character just as she puts love into being a mother and a godmother.
Having a major hand in the series, Riordan said he now has the chance to do what he wishes he did back when he wrote the books. One of these changes was adding depth to Sally’s character.
This also means the producers could add more backstory to Sally and Poseidon’s relationship. In the seventh episode, a flashback shows Sally and Poseidon talking about Percy in a diner — something never implied in the books. Now, we not only see Percy’s life from his eyes but from his mother’s eyes as well. Poseidon was never a deadbeat dad; he wanted to be part of Percy’s life and it pained him to stay away, but it was for the better.
The novels are well-known for Percy’s voice. Everyone can describe Percy as funny, sarcastic and loyal. He has a strong sense of morality, understanding right from wrong and being extremely stubborn to deviate from his ways.
Playing a first-person character in a third-person medium is a challenge, but not for Walker Scobell. A long-time fan of the books, he understood Percy to the bone. Scobell’s version of Percy is loveable and impertinent. Most of all, Scobell’s Percy embodies what Percy has always been: a 12-year-old doing what 12-year-olds do when thrown into difficult situations. If that means flossing during capture the flag, refusing to acknowledge his absent dad and improvising a deadly battle, so be it. Percy is forced to make hard decisions and we see his character grow, moment after emotional moment.
Any other Percy besides Scobell’s rendition is unimaginable — especially after his final battle with Ares. If there’s anything to describe Percy, it would be how he comes up with dumb ideas on the spot. Percy deciding to single-combat Ares was a dumb idea.
It throws everyone off — Ares, Grover and Annabeth all at once. In the books, we can see his thought process. In the show, his thought process is shown through his flashback to training with Luke. Scobell and the directors pulled this scene off wonderfully.
We can’t talk about Percy without talking about Annabeth. Jeffries is a one-of-a-kind actress who makes Annabeth feel like Annabeth. She’s demanding. Clever. Observing. Everything that makes Annabeth who she is in the books with so much more added on.
Jeffries gave Annabeth a childlike sense in-between moments that really emphasizes her loss of childhood. Exhibit A: Annabeth gathers junk food in her arms at the convenience store, not knowing which to buy.
Like Scobell, I can’t imagine Annabeth as anyone other than Jeffries’ version. The friendship the two actors had off-screen showed on-screen, as their characters are bound to end up together. Their characters’ relationship develops in a way that the godsforsaken movie duo never succeeded in doing. One event in particular written solely for the show changed the course of their relationship for the better.
In the book, Percy changes Annabeth by inspiring her to visit her dad again, but there is little talk about her dad in the show. Instead, Percy changed her in a different, more meaningful way. On their quest to find Ares’ shield, the story diverges slightly from the books. They encounter the trick throne Hephaestus had crafted for Hera. Percy sits on the throne which encases him in gold, trapping him forever. Instead of retrieving the shield, Annabeth tries to free him. Hephaestus informs Annabeth if she retrieves the shield, her mother will honor her again. It is a tempting offer, but Annabeth begs the god to free Percy, as he is not like everyone else she’s met: instead of giving in to the ruthless nature of the mythological world, he has his own morals. Instead of kill or be killed, he finds a third option. Instead of giving in to what is, he talks of what should be. Hephaestus is so moved that he frees Percy and lets the duo go.
This scene was never in the novel, but it is an essential element in developing their relationship further. Annabeth gains massive respect for Percy as they go through quests together in the books; in the show, that respect begins here and at Aunty Em’s. Later in the books, Annabeth reveals she had a crush on him since they were twelve. I believe the crush started at this very moment: he gave his life for her to continue the quest; she gave up a chance at redemption for Percy’s life. It pains me that Percy will never know what she gave up to save him.
Aryan Simhadri crushed his role as Grover. In the novel, Grover is non-confrontational, empathetic and loyal. Simhadri was able to capture a certain charm to Grover that the books didn’t quite acquire. He is the comic relief but he’s also the dear best friend Percy never wants to let go of (he is, quite literally, the GOAT). He is the glue in Percy and Annabeth’s relationship. When they argue on the bus he gets so stressed he sings a friendship song. In Medusa’s lair, he reconciles them. The trio would not be the trio without Grover, and the casting would never have been complete without Simhadri’s charm.
And finally, Luke: he’s the older brother Percy always wanted. Luke is the first person who welcomes Percy when he feels alone in a new environment, taking on a mentor role. For the first time ever, Percy had friends who liked him.
Charlie Bushnell pulled Luke off naturally. He won the hearts of fans old and new, and broke them with his betrayal. In episode eight’s plot twist, Luke doesn’t reveal himself with a poisonous creature as the novel reads; Percy pieces together Luke’s betrayal himself (can we take a moment for Scobell’s expressions? Each time Percy is betrayed by someone close to him, his face contorts and hearts breaks).
Percy is huge on loyalty, but he is clever enough to realize the clues in front of him. He’s good at reading people. The scene is not only a show of character for him but also gives Luke a reason to be betrayed as he sees Annabeth and Percy work together against him. Annabeth, basically his little sister, siding with the new kid instead of joining his ranks. Annabeth was not present in the original scene, but this one created a firm bond of one relationship by breaking another.
These new scenes introduced into the canon are enjoyable. Dealing with a TV show, the producers have wiggle room to add backstory essential to the plot. Even though many know the story by heart, the small changes had viewers struggling to stay patient for the next episode. The show is geared for the younger audience, but it’s engaging even for its older fans. It kept them hooked, wondering what details they would implement later in the show.
Overall, it’s extremely satisfying the way the show turned out. The Percy Jackson resurgence looks promising; it reminds me of the time Avatar: The Last Airbender came back to Netflix. I’m excited to see how they implement season two, where Tyson is introduced and we have more Clarisse scenes!