From the moment the owl pushed the letter through the mail flap at 4 Privet Drive, every production company worth their salt has been looking for the next Harry Potter. Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, even Ender’s Game attempted to unseat it and become the new franchise to capture the hearts of a generation.
Even now, the quest hasn’t stopped. Netflix found some purchase with Stranger Things, but even in the streaming age the title “next Harry Potter” has remained elusive, to the point where Warner Bros. announced it would force a comparison by adapting the books into a TV series instead of movies.
Four years into its existence, Disney+ may have finally found its Harry Potter after many now-deleted family fantasy adventures (Willow, The Mysterious Benedict Society, we hardly knew ye.) Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a pitch-perfect adaptation of Rick Riordan’s mythological fantasy book series, may just have the juice to take on this throne and give the kids of the Harry Potter generation a new franchise that will grow along with them.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians follows Perseus “Percy” Jackson (Walker Scobell), a 12-year-old student who struggles with dyslexia and ADHD. At first, he thinks him being “special” is the worst of his problems, but eventually, it becomes his saving grace. After an unfortunate encounter on a field trip, he learns the truth: he is actually a demigod, a son of a Greek god who has yet to claim him.
After a personal tragedy, he’s sent to Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp full of fellow demi-gods, only to be whisked away on a quest of his own, encountering monsters from Greek mythology living all across America, invisible to the mortal eye. Along with the headstrong daughter of Athena Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries) and the friendly satyr Grover (Aryan Simhadri), Percy has to clear his name and try to get in the good books of the gods.
It’s not the first time Percy’s made the jump from page to screen. In 2010, 20th Century Fox previously tried to adapt Riordan’s books into a movie franchise directed by Harry Potter alum Chris Columbus. The film, starring Logan Lerman and future White Lotus star Alexandra D’Addario, was met with a mixed response and only merited one sequel, but for fans of the book, that’s all that was available. Not anymore.
Like any good ensemble fantasy show, the finished product can only be as good as the casting, and this series truly lucked out with its three leads. While their young ages show in the first episode, it quickly becomes clear these are roles that can grow along with them over who knows how many years.
Guiding him along the way is the A-List cast of gods, including a typically rascally Jason Mantzoukas as hard-partying Dionysus, the late great Lance Reddick as King of Olympus Zeus, and Disney darling Lin-Manuel Miranda as messenger god Hermes. The other adults in the cast are the monster-of-the-week one-off threats like Medusa (Jessica Parker Kennedy) and Echidna (Suzanne Cryer), combining epic fantasy worldbuilding with Buffy-esque episodic adventure. Whether they’re a camp director or a terrifying Gorgon, the supporting cast makes hearty meals out of their characters.
Nostalgia is an unwieldy weapon. If done correctly, it can draw twice the audience: one looking to discover something new and another looking to recapture the magic of an earlier age. If done incorrectly, it could get dismissed as a cash grab or, even worse, a “zombie reboot,” trying to stretch a story long after it is “dead.”
But Percy Jackson and the Olympians manages to deftly sidestep this issue by bringing the story back to what worked in the first place. With Rick Riordan on the creative team, it feels so perfectly suited to its new format of a television series that it’s almost unfathomable for it to take any other form. For example, Riordan’s original book, The Lightning Thief, was divided into relatively standalone chapters to allow for perfect before-bedtime reading. In the series, these chapters are beautifully translated into episodes, keeping the same irreverent naming convention with titles like “I Become Supreme Lord of the Bathroom” or “A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers.”
Whether you begged your parents for an orange Camp Half-Blood shirt as a kid, watched the 2010 film over and over, or just went through a Greek mythology phase, no matter your age there’s something to love about Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Maybe in the future, kids won’t be waiting for a letter from Hogwarts, but to be claimed as the secret child of a god.