Percy Jackson and the Olympians Episodes 1 and 2 Review
Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians Season 1.
If you think it would be cool to be a demigod, guess again. From the opening moments of Percy Jackson and the Olympians Season 1 Episode 1, “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-algebra Teacher,”12-year-old hero Percy (Walker Scobell) warns you it’s dangerous and scary.
While some viewers will be wondering what that means, others will be squealing with delight that the show proves itself a faithful adaptation from the start by lifting words straight from the book.
That opening moment sets the tone perfectly for what to expect from this show. It is an adventure full of danger and a true adaptation of the best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians books by Rick Riordan
Episode 1 has a lot of exposition to carry, and can sometimes buckle under that weight, but it does a great job introducing you to Percy’s world. From the moment we witness young Percy seeing mythical creatures, we know something’s not quite right.
It’s not just his dyslexia or ADHD, referenced but not named until the second episode, that makes Percy different. His school’s field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at Greek statues might be a little too on the nose (gee, that Mr. Brunner guy sure knows a lot about mythology!), but it leads to a pivotal moment that changes Percy’s trajectory forever.
His “otherness” is confirmed when after standing up for his best friend Grover (Aryan Simhadri), Percy accidentally uses his latent powers to push a bully into a water fountain. This leads his math teacher Mrs. Dodds (Megan Mullally) to turn into the scary fury Alecto who attacks Percy and accuses him of stealing something.
Thanks to his magical pen-turned-sword gifted to him by Mr. Brunner, Percy defeats her, but it’s all downhill from there.
The building sense of myth and magic is still charming on the premiere and has the right level of sincerity and exuberance, but Episode 1 is not quite as heavy on the jokes as the book it adapts, The Lightning Thief. The show relies less on Percy’s sarcastic, witty inner monologue and more on the action.
You still get a sense of his personality thanks to Scobell’s delivery, but this version of Percy is a little more emotionally complicated and more mature.
Percy is expelled, he has to return to his abusive stepdad, and his mom seems on the verge of an emotional breakdown (she’s listening to Olivia Rodrigo’s “Logical” for goodness sake!) as she takes him on a last-minute vacation to a cabin on Montauk.
All the while there’s a sense of foreboding. It’s storming out and Bear McCreary’s score (a standout throughout the two episodes) builds the tension.
Percy’s scenes with mom Sally (Virginia Kull) provide an emotional poignance to the episode. Before this, we mostly see Percy as a joking, sassy 12-year-old, but he becomes emotionally vulnerable and confused when his mom finally tells him his problems are because his dad is a god of Olympus and he’s a demigod.
It’s such a strong performance from Scobell that you feel Percy’s years of frustration bubbling over. All he wants is to know what’s wrong with him and instead, his mom is telling him what he thinks are children’s stories.
Kull also fills her performance with the angst of a mother who wants the best for her child but doesn’t want to let him go.
By the time Grover shows up again and reveals he’s a satyr meant to protect Percy and take him to Camp Half-Blood, a sanctuary for demigods, it’s already too late. There’s a questionable CGI minotaur on their heels to finish what Mrs. Dodds started.
You could say this is when Percy’s hero’s journey begins, as the minotaur crushes Sally into a cloud of gold shimmer and Percy slays him in revenge.
Was that a lot to take in? Sure, it was. By the end of Episode 1, you’re more or less expected to understand that gods and monsters are real and some of the rules of the world (demigods, “the mist,” Camp Half-Blood).
Not to mention this kid you’re just starting to like and root for lost his mom!
“I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom”
Fortunately, an exposition-heavy first half of the premiere leads to Episode 2, “ I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom,” being more digestible and fun.
You get to meet the fuller cast of characters including the irascible Mr. D aka Dionysus (Jason Mantzoukas), the director of Camp Half-Blood, fellow campers like Luke (Charlie Bushnell), son of Hermes, and most importantly Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries), daughter of Athena. You’re also reintroduced to Mr. Brunner as Chiron, a centaur who mentors half-bloods (we were right to be suspicious of that guy!).
Percy still struggles with his grief, but the world of Camp Half-Blood is initially a little lower stakes while still having a good sense of budding adventure and humor. Mostly he has to deal with a bully daughter of Ares (Clarisse played by Dior Goodjohn) and tries to earn glory while he waits for his dad to claim him.
In the world of Percy Jackson, the gods are usually deadbeat parents and Percy’s dad has an additional reason for keeping Percy secret. So he’s stuck in the Hermes cabins with all the other unclaimed kids.
Camp Half-Blood deserves its own show it’s so full of detail and life, and you’ll enjoy spending this portion of the story there. Percy gets to learn how to use weapons and participate in ancient traditions like burning offerings for the gods.
Meanwhile, he and the viewers are learning more and more tidbits about the life of demigods like why they have ADHD and dyslexia and why some gods aren’t allowed to have children. An epic Capture the Flag game (there are swords!) between the cabins makes for an expansive and thrilling set of scenes and is something book readers will be glad they kept in the show.
I would have loved to see more of Annabeth on this episode, as she plays a bigger role in introducing Percy to Camp Half-Blood in the books. However, we do see enough to get an idea of how her and Percy’s important friendship will evolve with Annabeth being a know-it-all genius who wants to go on a quest and Percy being… Percy.
We also learn about her history with Luke and a half-blood named Thalia who didn’t survive the journey to camp. Annabeth is a rich character and Jeffries brings her to life with aplomb.
By the time Poseidon (one of the gods who was not allowed to have children after a pact with Hades and Zeus, oops) claims Percy, things heat up. It’s revealed what Percy is REALLY doing at the camp and why all the baddies seem to be after him.
It turns out Zeus’s master lightning bolt is missing, and Zeus thinks Percy stole it for his dad. The only way to stop a war between the gods is for Percy to retrieve it from Hades, the true thief, and clear his dad’s name.
In a slight change from the books, where Percy only hopes that Hades can resurrect his mom, Grover confirms Sally isn’t dead and that Hades has her. This is enough for the young demigod to agree to his quest (he still agrees in the books, but his motivation to resurrect her is kept to himself).
The two-episode premiere does not waste time in setting up an epic adventure and making you root for Percy. I hope you enjoyed your stay at Camp Half-Blood because it’s time for Percy Jackson to be on his way.
Notable absences so far compared to the books: the Fates, Camp Half-Blood security guard Argus, the Oracle, any mention of ambrosia and nectar.
Not absent: PETER JOHNSON.
I wish they put the beautiful end credits in the beginning so more people would watch.
Learning they filmed the Met scenes in ILM’s “The Volume” is going to have me questioning every set. Camp Half-Blood has to be at least partially on location because I’ve seen photos of Rick Riordan at that lake!
Jason Mantzoukas belongs in every show in my opinion, but he especially belongs in Percy Jackson as Mr. D.
Percy’s mysterious nightmares are totally chill and not creepy.
Luke getting so much screentime that should have been Annabeth’s…not here for it.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians streams Tuesdays at 9 PM ET / 6 PM PT on Disney+.