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The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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“Percy Jackson” TV series falls short of the mark

“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” by Rick Riordan is a beloved book series that has reached millions of readers, young and old, worldwide. Its popularity cannot be overstated, and recently, it swept back into the contemporary media spotlight as a television series adaptation streaming weekly episodes on Disney+. 

The TV series showrunner is Rick Riordan, author of the original series of novels. His direct influence on the show is thought perhaps to be a condition of its creation, after the arguable disaster that was the short-lived film duology. Riordan’s influence is, however, turning out to be a drag—his efforts to “modernize” the show, combined with what can only be external influence from corporate oversight and the like, have, as the episodes have progressed, sought only to drain this Percy Jackson adaptation of all that made the books meaningful and unique. 

Don’t get me wrong—a majority of the elements of the show, whether they remain faithful to the book series or have been altered to fit the television formatting, are exactly what I would hope for in a Percy Jackson story. I have no qualms with the actors themselves; all of the main cast are perfect for their roles, and beyond that, have no creative control over the broader strokes of the storylines and narrative choices. 

Obviously, when a series is adapted to television, and especially a platform as “sleek” as Disney’s, changes must be made, and sacrifices taken. There is no conceivable way to perfectly transplant a book onto the screen. That being said, there are ways to make those necessary changes without losing the heart of the narrative. Part of the appeal of Percy Jackson as both a series and a character is the look we as readers get into his thought process and understanding; we learn everything he learns—about the Greek Mythology world, about his quests, about his feelings and relationships—at the same time he learns about them. By abandoning the “voiceover narrative” approach, touched on so briefly at the beginning of episode one, we lose an essential dimension of the Percy Jackson experience. 

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Compounding this loss is the show’s insistence on holding the viewer’s hand through all possible confusion or genuine emotion. This sanitation of arc and suspense—flattening aspects of storytelling that make the whole thing worthwhile and interesting—is a trend in media that has been (unfortunately) gracing our screens for a while now, but it’s disappointing to see it touch this PJO adaptation. For a series with such robust heart and layered foreshadowing, having every other line delivery be designed to let the reader know exactly what’s going to happen next– don’t worry, no surprises– is underwhelming at best. These characters go on a five-book journey to learn what they’re truly facing and overcome it ultimately as a family. Inexplicably, their television counterparts know all pertinent information right away and are happy to tell you all about it the moment the going gets tough. 

As a writer and a studio attempting to both bring in new fans and please the old ones, I’m sure trying to balance out the story elements so all viewers can enjoy it is a tremendously difficult task. But this insistence on “foreshadowing” things only for them to happen two minutes later, instead of in the next episode or, god forbid, at the end of the season, is vaguely insulting to viewers. (A recent example of this is Luke’s betrayal, set up so poorly at the beginning of the season that they had to retcon a plea/explanation at the very end). The implication that the show does not trust us to stick around—or, even, the odd self-awareness that it may not be assembled well enough to warrant the effort—serves only to make viewers more inclined to point out flaws, as I am so readily doing now. 

All of this is not to say that I did not enjoy the television show. I did, and definitely more so than those movies. But in the process of crafting this adaptation, I feel too much of what made Percy Jackson distinct was lost. It is comparable, now, to any other generic 2020s fantasy show, in ways it was not in its original form. I look forward to the release of the second season, as I’m hopeful the writers (Riordan especially) will be able to take the time to reflect on the changes they’ve made, and perhaps course-correct. 

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