As we near the premiere of the last episode of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” I wanted to offer a reflection on just why this particular quest has captured the attention of newcomers and PJO veterans alike. Why do we all seem to be tuning into this children's show, rabid and frothing at the mouth for every episode that comes out, finally happy that we have a good adaptation?
Well, I must first do my due diligence and establish what this series means to my age group. The first book, “The Lightning Thief,” came out in 2005. But, to me, the series's popularity peaked when the final book “The Last Olympian” was published in 2009 and the movie came out just a year later. These books were released at exactly the same time as I was learning to love reading in elementary and middle school, and it was a match made in Olympus. Author Rick Riordan never let up either, continuing to release series like “The Heroes of Olympus” and “The Kane Chronicles” to feed my mythology obsession.
For me, and I think many others, “Percy Jackson” was one of the first series that really captured our imaginations in the pre-teen days. The mythology, the humorous characters and compelling action scenes were the perfect combination. I'd be lying if I didn’t wish just the tiniest bit that I’d get some godly claiming sign and be whisked away to Camp Half-Blood. Every kid I knew that read these books related closely to one of the characters. After all, they didn’t just deal with problems relating to life-or-death, but often struggled with common insecurities relating to school or relationships. For me, I was sure I was the reincarnation of Annabeth Chase, the next child of Athena.
So I’m sure I wasn’t alone when I felt a sense of disappointment watching the 2010 and 2013 movie adaptations of the first two books. They weren’t adaptations of the books at all, but a loosely inspired movie that seemed to throw darts at plot points while blindfolded. I do have a controversial take, which is that I enjoyed the movies for pure nostalgia’s sake. They’re so wonderfully and horrifically reminiscent of that era of filmmaking. The Lady Gaga casino scene is sheer cinematic joy. However, do I consider them an actual “Percy Jackson” adaptation that does any justice to the books?
Frankly, the success of an adaptation usually all comes down to one major component: author involvement.
It's often the difference between a beautiful adaptation of a book to screen and one that resembles the loose sweater thread that connected the “Percy Jackson” book series and the movies. Rick Riordan publicly denounced and washed his hands of the movie. Conversely, in the television series, he has writer and producer credits and was involved in the casting process from the beginning.
That was what reassured me from the beginning. I knew that finding child actors with the acting chops to live up to the hype was going to be difficult. But the fact that the author gave the actors and the show his stamp of approval was immensely comforting.
And they nailed it. Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson, Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth Chase and Aryan Simhadri as Grover Underwood are phenomenally cast. Their chemistry is impeccable and heart-wrenching. The show follows the books closely, only making a few changes that aren’t deal breakers.
Now, I’m not saying the show is perfect. Do I personally think that it can be a little heavy-handed in its explanations? Sure, but it’s also supposed to be for kids and viewers who didn’t read the books. However, it’s getting what matters right, especially the worldbuilding and the essence of the trio we all know and love from the books: Percy’s sassiness, Annabeth’s guardedness and intelligence, Grover’s tendency to snack.
This show is what we get from including authors in the making of adaptations. Their opinion should be respected. After all, they know their worlds better than anyone. When a production allows the making of the show to be a partnership between author and director, it creates a final product that respects its devoted fanbase. It also does the important job of introducing the “Percy Jackson” universe to the next generation.
The final episode airs this week, and I for one, will be ready to watch.