‘XO, Kitty’ Review: Netflix’s ‘To All The Boys’ Sequel Series Blends K-Drama Allure With Rom-Com Delight
Netflix has spent billions of dollars trying to capture the attention of subscribers worldwide during the recent Peak TV battles. They’ve thrown obscenely high budgets towards beloved auteurs and greased the wheels of awards campaigns in the hopes of becoming the go-to stop for all of your content needs. Yet, for all of their investments and ambitions, what they eventually struck gold with was an ebullient teen rom-com that captured the hearts of millions.
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” became a surprise smash for Netflix, earning strong reviews as well as a devoted fanbase. Two sequels followed, further adapting the best-selling novels by YA queen Jenny Han. With Lara Jean earning her happy ending, where else could they take the story? Now, the attention falls onto Kitty, Lara Jean’s younger sister, and her own search for love, identity and a classic happy-ever-after.
With Han at the helm as showrunner, “XO, Kitty” hopes to recapture the fizzy joy of its movie predecessors while seeking a bite of the K-drama pie that’s become such a lucrative deal for Netflix and audiences alike.
‘XO, Kitty’ Premiere: Noah Centineo Supports Anna Cathcart, Who Carries the ‘To All the Boys’ Torch Forward (Photos)
Anna Cathcart returns to the role of Kitty Song Covey, the bubbly matchmaker who believes she’s finally found true love in the form of Dae-heon Kim (Choi Min-young). Alas, they are separated by thousands of miles, and trying to hold down a relationship over Facetime just isn’t cutting it anymore. Fortunately for Kitty, she’s just landed a scholarship at an exclusive school in South Korea. Not only is the Korean Independent School of Seoul (appropriately shortened to KISS) the same institution that Dae attends, but it’s where her late mother studied.
It’s clearly fate, so Kitty flies off to a new country to get her big romantic ending. At least until Kitty actually makes it to the school.
What made the “To All the Boys” trilogy work so well was its earnest embrace of romantic comedy tropes. There’s no fourth-wall break over how potentially silly the set-up was, no sly digs or eyerolls about its wide-eyed excitement for adolescent love. What it lacked in surprises, it more than made up for with immense charm and a willingness to take seriously the emotional trials of a teenage girl. At a time when the much-maligned genre was lacking in cinematic presence, it helped to reignite the popularity of the good old-fashioned romcom, and for good reason.
“XO, Kitty” aims for similar territory. Hey, if it ain’t broke…
Kitty is the extrovert sister, the wannabe Emma Woodhouse of the saga who jumps before she thinks. Cathcart is appropriately sweet as the title character, building on her giddy supporting role from the films. All too used to getting her own way thanks to little sister privilege and pure charm, she’s utterly unprepared for the reality of an elite school and a long-distance boyfriend who’s suddenly all too real. She’s amply supported by a cast of young actors (who are mostly, and mercifully, actual teens rather than 20-somethings) as well as veterans such as “Lost” alum Yunjin Kim, as the principal of KISS.
It’s tough to overlook the obvious influence of K-dramas on “XO, Kitty,” a field of TV that shares a lot of DNA with Jenny Han’s work. Viewers familiar with series like “Crash Landing On You” and “Boys Over Flowers” will see the connective tissue, both aesthetically and narratively — although “XO, Kitty” does feel decidedly aimed at an American audience.
Kitty’s journey is as much about her connecting with her Korean heritage as her romantic perils, and that’s where the show finds some of its strongest beats. As a mixed-race Korean American raised by a single white parent, Kitty has long felt disconnected from her own identity, and the show gives her a chance to delve into her history. Amid the teen drama and romantic entanglements, these moments provide a new layer to a familiar tale.
You won’t find many surprises here but that’s not the point. “XO, Kitty” has a precise understanding of its audience and genre, and it’s effectively committed to executing its rom-com premise as strongly as possible. The appeal lies in those familiar beats, like the hot but unapproachable bad boy who tries to get Kitty to go home but is soon drawn to her generosity; to the social media star struggling with family expectations and secrets she must keep hidden. This is a series of such glossy efficiency that it often looks uncanny, almost AI-esque, thanks to lavish settings like as the fanciest school in the Northern hemisphere (every high school in a Netflix film looks like a cross between a Silicon Valley campus and a Bond villain’s volcano lair.)
While there are pacing issues (it’s a Netflix series so such things are apparently mandatory), each episode clocks in at 30 minutes or less, which makes for a fun, frothy binge-watch. And there is enough here to keep you hooked beyond Kitty’s story.
You can see Han laying the groundwork for a richer, denser season two. She’s juggling a lot of balls here, enough soapy drama to keep any teen (or young at heart viewer) hooked. As evidenced by her work on Prime Video’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty”, she’s certainly capable of sticking the landing, and “XO, Kitty” does leave one wanting more. Sure, it’s well-trodden territory, but there are few things more satisfying than seeing something done well, especially in a genre that’s still seen as an industry-wide punching bag.
You don’t need to be a hardcore “To All The Boys” devotee to let “XO, Kitty” win you over.
“XO, Kitty” premieres Thursday, May 18, on Netflix.