Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Season 1 REVIEW – Far From Epic

This adaptation has more than one Achilles’ heel.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Percy Jackson and the Olympians

The strangest thing about the Percy Jackson and the Olympians show is that it feels like it was conceived as a comedy, but it wasn’t really written or directed as one. The premise of Greek gods and goddesses pretending to be ordinary Americans like mailmen and restaurant owners feels ripe for a plethora of jokes, but the show never really takes advantage of such a goofy set-up. Instead, it leans far more toward its fantasy adventure nature, only occasionally cracking a joke here and there and taking itself too seriously otherwise.

Part of why that is might be that the book it’s based on was written in first person, so a lot of its humor came from Percy’s inner monologue. Still, that’s a reason, not an excuse. Tons of kids’ shows are lighthearted and humorous fun despite still adhering to a visual medium, so Percy Jackson’s confusing tone is not only a misstep, it’s a complete tumble and fall.

An adaptation of the extremely popular book series by Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians follows Percy Jackson, a 12-year-old kid who discovers that the characters of Greek mythology are real and that he’s the son of the sea god Poseidon. He’s sent to a camp for demigod kids, but when the sky god Zeus’s lightning bolt is stolen, Percy is accused of being the thief. Together with campmates Grover and Annabeth, Percy then embarks on a quest to find Zeus’s bolt and prove his innocence.

The books were a pretty great introduction to Greek mythology for kids as they were effervescently written and featured funny and charming characters, particularly the main trio Percy, Grover, and Annabeth. The characters of the show, however, seem to simply exist and do what the screenplay tells them to do, occasionally showing glimpses of personality but mostly just being bland enablers of plot points.

Grover’s the most likable one, but that’s mostly because his actor, Aryan Simhadri, is trying his absolute best to be energetic and charismatic, despite the episode teleplays not giving him much to work with. His character is meant to be the comic relief, but that mostly amounts to him acting slightly more nervous or awkward than everyone around him. Other than that, his dialogue is mostly just exposition about the fantasy world they live in.

Annabeth’s character is utterly confusing. She’s meant to be this mysterious stoic figure and we don’t really know what her motivations are or her deal is, but this doesn’t work for two reasons. One, she’s 12, so how mysterious can a kid that age really be? Two, the writers have mistaken mysterious for boring, and with zero intrigue behind her silence, her coldness just comes across as her being a petty bully for no reason.

However, Percy is, to no contest, the blandest character in the show. The show has stripped him of all personality and his actions feel motivated not by any specific emotions, but because it’ll move the plot forward. If the show needs Percy to anger a god, it’ll have him act like a tough guy. If the show needs Percy to have a poignant moment, it’ll have him act like a saint. If the show needs Percy to figure something out, it’ll have him figure it out seemingly out of nowhere.

All of this is made even worse by several scenes attempting to squeeze the audience’s hearts and make us tear up, despite the friendship between the three being virtually nonexistent. They act more like co-workers than friends, their quest being their collaborative project, and half of the time, Grover isn’t even with the other two.

They’re constantly splitting up, Percy and Annabeth together and Grover alone, making Grover’s sentimental moments with either of the other two feel shallow and forced. It’s no wonder, then, why most of the character-based humor falls flat, like when Grover starts being cranky because he’s hungry. That joke could’ve been done with any of the main three kids, so pinning it on Grover just feels random.

Still, the situational humor does work at times, like when Percy is forced to drive a car despite being a kid or when Grover acts amazed at everything after losing his memory. With a premise this silly, it’d be impressive if there wasn’t a single funny moment all throughout. A lot of the set pieces and character designs are also lovely to look at, and the season finale is the show at its most visually stunning, with several of the fantasy scenes looking downright marvelous.

Actually, with how impressive a lot of the set pieces are, the show’s biggest problem reveals itself to be not that it isn’t consistently funny, but that it isn’t consistently fun. When the show has action and excitement, it can be pretty intriguing, even if the characters in peril aren’t particularly interesting ones. Unfortunately, these moments are sporadic, particularly because the story largely takes place in serene settings like museums, restaurants, and trains.

With Harry Potter, another popular children’s book series that got adapted to a visual medium, most of the film franchise spent its time in the world of wizards and witches, so the titles always felt like a fantastical experience. With the Percy Jackson show, most of its episodes take place in urban America, so whenever the trio gets transported away from ordinary city life, it almost feels like a different show.

The Harry Potter characters also looked like wizards and witches; these characters look like regular people. The only way you’re able to tell that they aren’t before it’s mentioned is because the camera zooms in on them. Ares looks like Adam Copeland, Hades looks like Jay Duplas, and Hermes looks like Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I get that the whole point is that they’re trying to blend in, but when most of your show is this visually indistinct, you have to double down on humor, suspense, or action. This show doesn’t: a lot of its episodes are just sitting around and talking, whether that be the trio discussing plans or them talking to a human-looking god, trying to negotiate a deal.

This might have worked better in a book, given that you’re constantly reading the characters’ names in dialogue tags. In the show, however, it doesn’t feel like Percy is talking to Hermes, the messenger of the gods. It feels like he’s talking to the songwriter of Hamilton and Encanto, which is far less exciting to watch unless you’re a theatre nerd.

Given its source material, Disney branding, and 2010’s Percy Jackson film seen by many fans as a seriously awful adaptation of the beloved source material, Percy Jackson and the Olympians’s rocky first season feels all the more disappointing. Despite the occasional sightings of inspiration, it’s a largely unremarkable show that probably wouldn’t have gotten a lot of talk had it not been based on such a popular book series.

READ NEXT: How the Sega Saturn Failed

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians
It may please die-hard fans of the books, but this Percy Jackson adaptation could’ve been so much more memorable had the characters been more likable, the episodes more exciting, and the humor more effective.