'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' Review: A Fun Take On The Franchise

‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ Review: A Fun Take On The Franchise

Transitions are challenging, and for preteens encountering those first pivotal life shifts, change can feel overwhelming. For 12-year-old Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell), who has always felt like an outsider, coming of age means godly encounters, foretold prophecies and cross-country quests. Based on the acclaimed books by Rick Riordan, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is a gorgeous, intriguing narrative about self-discovery, courage and friendship.

For viewers who haven’t read Riordan’s expansive series and have never seen the lackluster film adaptations, the premiere, “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher,” lays the groundwork of who Percy is, and the obstacles he’s faced thus far. The only child of a single mother, Sally (Virginia Kull), Percy has dealt with a slew of school expulsions, bullies and ADHD and dyslexia diagnoses. The middle schooler is used to things not going his way, but a class field trip to the Met in New York City is a doozy. After retaliating against a bully and getting ratted out by his best friend, Grover (Aryan Simhadri), Percy is booted from Yancy Academy.

Being ousted is the least of his worries. While Percy is still reeling from Grover’s betrayal, his mother reveals he is the son of a god, aka a demigod, and that the terrifying creatures he’s spotted and dreamed of throughout his childhood are real. On a harrowing trek to Camp, the place where half-bloods are safely sequestered away from monsters, Percy grapples with his lineage and the news that Grover is actually a satyr, a horned forest spirit who’s been tasked with protecting him.

Camp brings new challenges. Just as he’s getting his bearings, Percy finds himself on a mission to clear his name and make his father, Poseidon (Toby Stephens), proud. Standing beside Percy on his journey are Grover and Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries), the most fearsome among the demigods. Self-assured and dynamic, Annabeth has no qualms about calling Percy out or confronting her adversaries head-on.

Speaking of Annabeth and Grover, when the cast was announced last year, self-proclaimed “book purists” spewed racist vitriol across the internet over the casting of Jeffries and Simhadri, who are Black and Indian American, respectively. Considering the sensational final product, it’s obvious these young people are more than up to the task. (For his part, Riordan called out the malicious racism on his blog, saying, “If you have a problem with this casting, take it up with me.”)

Full of action, and all of those magnificent revelations of adolescence, “Percy Jackson” is one of the strongest YA television outings in a long time. The series has the same captivating elements that made the “Harry Potter” film franchise successful. Unlike the “Percy” films, which aged the characters up, launching the show with younger actors spotlights a unique period while establishing a solid framework that will allow the story to expand as the leading trio ages.

In addition to the stunning effects, the actors’ talents can’t be understated. As Percy, Scobell has a snark and cynicism that perfectly encapsulates the experiences of a defiant boy. In contrast, Jefferies’ Hermione Granger-like Annabeth is a badass warrior. Bold and unafraid, she has an intensity beyond her years. Balancing out the pair is Simhadri’s Grover. Gentle and thoughtful, he often plays the mediator between the two, bringing a wisdom and calm neither of the demigods has grasped yet.

Possessing enticing pacing, riveting physicality and history lessons on the Greek gods, the show captures the dizzying but brilliant tone of the preteen years while setting a foundation for what future projects centering on Gen Z and Gen Alpha can be. “Percy Jackson” offers teenagers control of their feelings and experiences without patronizing them. The series depicts a genuinely inclusive world, showcasing storylines and characters that will captivate fans for the next decade. At long last, Riordan’s work has been given the extensive visual adaptation it deserves.

The first two episodes of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” premiere Dec. 20 on Disney+ with new episodes dropping weekly on Wednesday.