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Friday, April 19, 2024

The Percy Jackson TV show is nothing I wanted it to be and more

Rick Riordan personally crushed my dreams 

 

By MOLLY THOMPSON — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu 

 

I, like the vast majority of my generation, spent my upper elementary and middle school years nose-deep in the pages of Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympiansseries. And then the subsequent “Heroes of Olympusbooks, and then “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard,” and so on and so forth. A story centered around a charismatic, relatable, funny adolescent protagonist with a charming inner monologue and a misfit found-family who manages to cleverly stumble through fantastic adventures —- what’s not to love? If you’re under the age of 25 and you’ve never thought about who your godly parent would be, you’re either lying or you’re at least a little bit of a loser. So when I got wind of a Disney TV show adaptation of the beloved book series that would be spearheaded by none other than the author Riordan himself, I was elated. The chance to see my favorite characters traverse the world of Greek mythology and trip acid — I mean lotus flower cookies — in high definition? Sign me up. 

Alas, I was disappointed. The first few episodes really led me on — they were more or less book-accurate, and they made my inner middle-school-fangirl very happy. Walker Scobell, who plays the titular character himself, did a great job embodying Percy’s quintessential irreverence and sarcastic, juvenile antics, and much of the rest of the cast were similarly excellent in their performances. The one character that I do take issue with, however, is Annabeth Chase. Now, I have absolutely nothing against Leah Jeffries, who plays the character. In fact, I think she’s an incredibly talented actress. But the way her character was written in the show just doesn’t live up to book-Annabeth. Annabeth Chase is a complex and nuanced individual, but she came into that complexity and nuance over the course of a ten-book-long saga. I think one of the first mistakes the show made was trying to divulge into her depth too quickly, which both incentivized them to make plot changes and shifted the way that we came to know her fundamentally. 

Admittedly, I may be biased. Annabeth has been my comfort character since my introduction to the series. My driver’s license says my eyes are grey and I don’t want to talk about it (In the right light they are, okay?), so I have very high expectations for how she’s portrayed. I’m actually completely fine with the visual differences between the actors and the physical literary descriptions. In a way, I appreciate it because it allows me to keep a level of separation between the book characters and the show characters, which prevents the show from altering my perception of the books. Book-Annabeth is fiery, witty, sharp and stubborn. She’s defensive because she carries a lot of emotional baggage, but we don’t know that initially because we only see her through the eyes of a pre-teen Percy Jackson, who hasn’t yet learned what makes her tick. Show-Annabeth is clever, determined and clearly strategic in a very true-to-novel way, but she lacks the spark and fervor that her on-paper counterpart embodies. Book-Annabeth, when she’s young, is so driven by a deep sense of having something to prove, and I just don’t get that on the screen. 

Regarding the plot, to me, it felt like the writers kept the bare-bones skeleton of the novel and rearranged all of the guts. Yes, they go to the waterpark and the Lotus Hotel and the waterbed store, but everything that happens at each location is completely different. 

Riordan has provided explanations behind some of the changes that were made. For example, in the final episode, he notes that “the pearl doesn’t take Percy back to the beach in Santa Monica, but to a more convenient [and] important beach: Montauk. We figured if the pearl always returns to the sea, why not the Atlantic, which is closer to camp? This cuts some details like the airplane ride back, yes, but [in my opinion] this made sense and there were a lot more important things to cover! Like the upcoming battle with Ares.” 

This makes sense to me. It’s small, it doesn’t change anything major and it adapts well to the on-screen format. What I don’t appreciate is when they change an entire, major plot point without a clear reason. Multiple times throughout the series, the central trio (Percy, Annabeth and Grover) would go into a situation where I, as a devoted fan, knew they were about to encounter a monster. I would be on the edge of my seat, ready to watch them walk in blind, figure out who they were facing and how to defeat them and then eke out an impressive win. Yet time and time again, they went in fully aware of who they were facing, which took the anticipation and fun out of the entire scene. This happened with Medusa, the Lotus Hotel and Casino and Procrustes, among even more. When they already know how to overcome the adversary, the event becomes, frankly, boring. 

“I understand that sometimes it helps move the story along in an adaptation but when the show is constantly telling instead of showing, it begins to feel a little unreasonable,” Anna Nacht, a first-year environmental engineering major, said.

Sally Jackson, Percy’s lovely, sweet mother, has a slightly different role in the show than she does in the books. The screenwriters kept her nurturing, loyal essence, but specifically her dynamic with Gabe Ugliano, her abusive partner, takes on a completely divergent meaning in the show. As originally written by Riordan, Gabe is offensive, manipulative and downright nasty. In the end, Sally (spoiler alert) uses Medusa’s severed head to turn him to stone. This is a decisive action that empowers Sally, and is especially poetic because of the story of Medusa herself. I always appreciated the justice in the act, so I thought the show snubbed Sally a little when they changed the narrative and took that away from her. On screen, Gabe is more of a weak, annoying moron than he is abusive. Sally doesn’t submit to him, which means it would have been kind of mean for her to get her revenge as she did on the page. But that subversion disappointed me — I love a good dose of poetic justice, and I feel that Sally deserves that retribution and power. 

Despite this (non-exhaustive) list of grievances, I truly did enjoy the show. The characters are lovable and charming, the plot is compelling, and it includes enough cohesive aspects that I still absolutely relished in seeing my beloved stories come to life. There are some things I may never get over (they specifically made it a point that Percy couldn’t understand ancient Greek?), but I certainly will still beeline to get my hands on a second season, should the opportunity arise. And honestly, I can’t complain too much because compared to the movies, this show is golden.

 

Written by: Molly Thompson — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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