REVIEW: ‘XO, Kitty’ Lacks A Necessary Spark

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XO, Kitty

XO, Kitty, the spinoff series to the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy movies, has an unfortunate problem that announces itself early. Falling in line behind many other series that have succumbed to the same fate, the latest courtesy of Netflix binge-worthy hopeful is too sterile for its own good even with star Anna Cathcart doing all she can.

Created by Jenny Han, aside from the Crate & Barrel set design that looks as if it would disintegrate if one were to sit on the couch the wrong way, the most significant issue lies with the star herself, Kitty (Anna Cathcart, reprising her role from the originals.) Now a junior in high school, the youngest Covey is determined to conquer her love story after helping her older sister, Lara Jean (Lana Condor), achieve her fairytale ending. This means enrolling and being selected to attend the prestigious school, KISS — Korea Independent School of Seoul — where her long-distance boyfriend, Dae (Minyeong Choi), attends.

It also serves as a chance for her to connect with her late mother while on the same campus, she once attended, who she hardly remembers. Kitty implores her father, telling him that this will allow her to understand her mom better. Early in the premiere, she says, “no part of mom has belonged to just me.” It’s a thread that would’ve made the original jump from her home to Seoul all the more palatable, but it works on its own accord to give her further depth, always feeling disconnected compared to her older sisters, who were given more time with their mom.

That said, while Cathcart is set up with a decent backbone of a story for Kitty, with plenty of characters to work off of, Kitty is a character who works best as a supporting player. This isn’t just evident from the original trilogy, where her wiser than her year’s personality acted as a foil to Lara Jean’s more fanciful demeanor, but with the whole new cast as well.

Even Dae, who arguably could’ve been too dull of a character on his own, is given plenty to do and a backstory to grapple with. While his main plot consists of him having to enter a fake relationship with Yuri (Gia Kim), the school’s most popular attendee, his home life and relationship with his sister give him greater depth. Similarly, characters such as Q (Anthony Keyvan) and Min Ho (Sang Heon Lee,) Dae’s closest friends aside from Kitty, are allowed to be more than comedic relief, with both getting their substantial storylines.

But it’s Yuri who, in one of her first scenes, announces herself as the preferred protagonist of the series. Abrasive and confident compared to Kitty’s clumsiness (too reminiscent of any mid-2000s teen comedy where the main only imperfection was their ability to trip on their own shadow and maybe some dormitory complications) she is a striking presence. The show wastes little time fleshing her out, giving her a valid reason to want — need — to enter a fake relationship to protect herself from public opinion and her judgemental and controlling parents without thought of the fallout and emotions that come with that.

Yuri’s desperate need to protect a past relationship and her sexuality from leaking to the public makes her general attitude understandable. Her scenes are more reminiscent of the standard K-Drama, which is, coincidentally, when some of that earlier artifice works better as it leans into the fairytale elements. Yuri’s character development and growing dynamic with Kitty is the most exciting part of the series.

Like most ensemble shows, it works best when we dig through the group as a unit. Kitty quickly latches onto Q, trying to play matchmaker yet again. Meanwhile, her and Min Ho’s push-and-pull relationship gives way to some formidable chemistry between Cathcart and Lee.

XO, Kitty season one is enjoyable if you’re not expecting much from the substance other than romantic connections and betrayals. Yet another victim to the Netflix way of things, it’s perhaps best recognized for its soundtrack, which incorporates some of K-Pop’s biggest names, from BTS and Blackpink to Momoland and Seventeen. It wants to reach a global audience by dealing with an intergenerational story of mothers and their teenagers and the need to connect with your parents through their birthplace. Still, while it has many pieces of a success story, it falters in execution.

Clinical and overly stylized to the point where it loses any sense of personality, the romantic comedy mistakes calculated for charming and twee for sweet. The result, despite its confectionary energy that tries to imbue the story with the needed spark, is an awkward and misguided attempt to try and achieve the same wholesome magic of the original. Regardless, XO, Kitty is one of those unassuming shows that, while relentless in their posturing where each scene seems advertised to ignite online shopping, is sweet enough not to skip once you’ve begun. The best way to describe it is “just fine,” but that’s a very short review.

XO, Kitty is available now on Netflix.

XO, Kitty
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10


Regardless, XO, Kitty is one of those unassuming shows that, while relentless in their posturing where each scene seems advertised to ignite online shopping, is sweet enough not to skip once you’ve begun.

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