Look, I didn’t want to be so critical. 

I’ve been waiting for a faithful adaptation since I was eleven years old and read “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” for the first time. Save for a few memorable, laugh-out-loud one-liners, the two film adaptations — as any fan knows — strayed frustratingly far from the source material. Both readers and Rick Riordan himself kept on hoping for an adaptation that preserved the heart of the story. Following the first season of the eight-episode Disney+ adaptation, it is time to consider if this time, they got it right.

The series proved in many ways that the term “faithful” does not translate to “identical to the original novels.” Riordan and the other executives changed, condensed and switched around many plot points, leaving even the most die-hard Percy Jackson fans wondering what would happen in the end. It helps to view the series as separate from the novels, otherwise it is easy to be disappointed, and the series was disappointing at points. While it made sense that Riordan and the producers would make changes, many memorable lines and moments from the novels were traded in for new ones. They may have included “You drool in your sleep” to every Percy and Annabeth fan’s delight, but numerous other iconic interactions were either drastically changed or just removed. 

While not an objective negative and irrelevant to those entirely new to the franchise, those missing moments did take away slightly from my own enjoyment of the series. That being said, most of the relationships and characters felt like they were straight out of the novels. The show preserved the core of Percy and Annabeth’s book one dynamic, as well as the friendship of Percy and Grover.

The casting and chemistry between most of the actors were spot on. Walker Scobell hit it out of the park as Percy. Because the show lacked Percy’s first-person narration, Scobell had to both embody Percy’s humor — much of which was included in the novel’s narration — and his anger, which readers see less because the books are written in Percy’s perspective.

Leah Sava Jeffries faced much hate for her casting because she is Black, rather than her description in the novels, as white or blonde. That being said, Jeffries’ ability to portray Annabeth should never have been in question. There was much backlash online prior to the series’ release, with many proclaiming that Jeffries was “not [their] Annabeth.” While she did not need to prove herself in the role, she went above and beyond. Annabeth is a stoic, serious and witty twelve-year-old, and Jeffries nailed it. She’s already won the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People Image award “Outstanding Performance by a Youth,” and it was well deserved. 

Grover’s portrayal was great but different; Aryan Simhardi was phenomenal, but the writing of his character did diverge from the source material. While still awkward, Grover was a lot less timid and notably more brave than in the books. It is enjoyable to watch a Grover with more agency, but it also takes away from his future arc. He grows braver as the series goes on, and it is worth wondering how much more he can grow considering his new starting point.

Annabeth’s writing also differed at points. Her crush on Luke was notable in the novels despite how closed off Annabeth tended to be. However, the portrayal of their relationship in the show seems purely familial. While this is unlikely to cause major changes, her feelings for Luke add nuance and cause her much inner conflict throughout the five-novel series. She feels torn between Percy and the Luke she knew when she was younger, and her insistence on Luke’s ability to be good resulted in tension between her and Percy. A brother-sister relationship can have similar consequences, but likely will cause less jealousy and tension from Percy. 

Annabeth is brave and strong, but the show does not venture so far as to present her flaws other than her pride and stubbornness. They cut an integral scene from the novel in which her fear of spiders is revealed and make her head counselor of the Athena cabin at twelve years old, as a result glossing over the fact Annabeth is just a kid. Because Annabeth is more adult or mature, her character feels slightly flat. 

Speaking of Luke — Charlie Bushnell’s portrayal was one of the most notable performances in the series. Throughout the eight episodes, his charisma charms the audience, making it clear why Percy and Annabeth both trusted Luke. Luke was kind and understanding to Percy, while still expressing how bitter and angry he felt towards the gods. Luke’s betrayal is so poignant because the viewer ends up wanting to trust Luke, even if they already know where his true allegiance lies. 

Certain elements of the series appeared “sanitized,” and it ultimately lacked a lot of the darker and more troubling aspects that were present in the novels. Gabe Ugliano, Percy’s stepfather, is verbally abusive towards both Percy and his mother Sally Jackson, and Percy realizes that Gabe has hit his mother as well. In the series, however, Gabe came off as buffoonish more than anything, and both the severity of Percy’s situation and Sally’s selflessness were erased. Sally married Gabe to protect Percy from monsters — Gabe’s “stench,” as put by Riordan, prevented monsters from sniffing out Percy — but that element was missing in the series. Further, in the season finale, Gabe is just gone. Where did he go? Given his characterization in the show, it would not have made sense for Sally to turn him to stone with Medusa’s head, but his unexplained absence was either an oversight or a poor choice on the part of the creators. 

While more subtly, Virginia Kull’s Sally Jackson also differed from the Sally in the novels. Sally has always been brave and determined in her own right, but she was considerably more outspoken and in control of her situation in the show. She was not at Gabe’s beck-and-call in the novels, but was not nearly as defiant as she was in the series. Sally was not meek in the novels, and was just as deserving of Percy’s reverence even if she wasn’t constantly going toe-to-toe with Gabe. Her having so much control over her situation with Gabe in the series makes her sacrifice seem smaller, and less important. The crux of her relationship with her son stays the same — Percy may even be more dedicated to his mother in the series — but the adaptation in some ways feels incomplete. 

The one character that may be miscast is Clarisse LaRue. Dior Goodjohn is a great actress, but she did not capture the heart of Clarisse’s character in her portrayal. First and foremost, Clarisse is described as very big, while Goodjohn is lean and thin. That being said, it is true that appearance was not a consideration in the casting process, as Riordan made clear. More importantly, her personality is misconstrued. Clarisse is a bully, but in the novels she takes out her aggression through threats and brute force. In the series, however, Clarisse comes off as a popular mean girl without much fire. Instead of being the one to force Percy’s head down a toilet, she has her goonies do the job for her. 

In translating a novel into an eight-episode season, things have to be cut; that is the nature of an adaptation. That being said, exchanging mystery and urgency with exposition is not an equal trade. Percy, Annabeth and Grover never had to work very hard to figure things out; Medusa and Procrustes’ identities were revealed almost immediately. The viewer would rarely find themself in the dark or with many questions. 

The world they built is, however, very complete. Camp Half-Blood both looks and feels like a home and despite how little time they allowed Percy to stay there before his quest, the viewer can understand why he is so protective of the camp. All the locations are beautiful and complex, from Medusa’s lair to Mount Olympus itself. The gods themselves are both their own characters and part of the series’ worldbuilding. Notably, Adam Copeland’s performance as Ares is a masterclass in how to play an Olympian, and there was never any question that Jason Mantzoukas would embody Dionysus in every way. Lin Manuel Miranda exceeded expectations as Hermes, and even Timothy Omundson’s brief appearance as Hephaestus explored the complexity of his character. Lance Reddick’s Zeus was intimidating and powerful, and it was heartbreaking to learn of his death in March of 2023. 

As a standalone series, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” is very high-quality. The casting, writing and production are, for the most part, very well done, and the story is compelling. That being said, as an adaptation, its quality is slightly lower. The heart of the series remains, but certain sacrifices detracted from the final product.