XO, Kitty is the spin-off series from the famed teenage trilogy To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, which follows the youngest of the Song Covey sisters, Kitty, who is now all grown up and ready for love. The Emma-esque self-proclaimed matchmaker is still reeling from her relationship with her pen pal, first love Dae, whom she met four years ago (in the To All The Boys universe) and is still actively “seeing” long distance. Right off the bat, XO, Kitty smacks every popular K-pop group in your face with song after song from all the popular groups and idols like Seventeen, BTS, Blackpink, Twice, Somi, and so many more I can’t keep count. The show is like a kaleidoscope of K-drama, American teen drama, Hallmark teen movies, and a Disney Chanel original, while also giving off the feeling of The Summer I Turned Pretty all at once. I know it sounds confusing, but that’s kind of what makes the show work. While the former TV show consists of an Asian protagonist and Western love interests, in the case of Katherine Song Covey, she’s the “Westerner” and all her love interests are Korean. While Kitty is technically half-Korean, her entire life has been spent in Portland, leading a perfectly American lifestyle. Hmm, I wonder what this says about Jenny Han, who authored all these books.
XO, Kitty follows the younger sister of Lara Jean, who has applied for a scholarship to the esteemed school, the “Korean International School of Seoul,” aptly abbreviated to KISS, so she can spend her high school years with her first love Dae and also find out about her mother, who happens to be an alumnus of the school. Just like the Never Have I Evers and whatever other diaspora teen show you want to talk about in the past few years, Kitty is in search of love and has an abundance of options. A platter of perfect-looking, intelligent, rich, and kind lovers awaits her visit. Lara Jean had a list of boys she loved before, and Kitty is about to make a never-ending list of her own. If you’re a fan of K-dramas like myself, you’d be counting the number of Dramaland tropes that XO, Kitty makes ample use of, but I’m not complaining. Rather than becoming a trope-y, misleading teen show that paints everything in a rosy light, this show is sure of its position and knows exactly who its audience is and how massively that audience has grown over the past couple of years. Back in the day, a Korean-English series known as “Dramaworld,” about a K-drama fan who stepped into Dramaland, was created, but not many people knew about it because of the era it came out. XO, Kitty feels like an upgraded self-insert version of Dramaworld, except this time it’s Kitty’s real life.
While Kitty, played by Anna Cathcart, is an endearing character who is an obnoxious teenager who thinks she understands the world all by herself, there is a cultural aspect attached to her character that needs more exploration. We hear Kitty say many times that she’s half-Korean and that she wants to learn about her mother, so why doesn’t she try to speak the language or learn about the Chuseok traditions? Instead, we skim through the real fun stuff for love triangles and queer-baiting plot points. Of course, we’re looking at more seasons with the way things ended and a clear cliffhanger to make us wish there were more episodes, especially because the series is so easy to breeze through with ten 30-minute episodes. Another show I was reminded of by the narrative direction of XO, Kitty is the Japanese drama My Love Mix-Up, maybe I never lived a regular teen life, but what is with the number of misunderstandings in these adolescent shows? But, even with the loud character Kitty at the center of it all, every other character in the show shines, making their presence felt every time they’re on screen. Starting with the gay best friend Q, played by Anthony Keyvan, who was robbed for sure, but with so much happening in Kitty’s life, we might need another spin-off on his story too.
Gia Kim as Yuri is enticing, lovely, and the perfect heiress character; anybody in their right mind would fall for her. Her problems are a breath of fresh air in between the Kitty problems, for sure. Dae, the charming and adorable long-distance lover and best friend played admirably by Choi Minyong, is a great lead until he’s not, and I was definitely vouching for him and Kitty considering how hard they both worked to make it happen. Lee Sang Heon’s Min Ho seems like the perfect K-drama lead, though, with his “Chaebol” appearance and playboy exterior, reminding me of the many “rich-spoilt-brats” turned lover boys we’ve seen so many times in K-dramas (I know you’re thinking Gu Jun Pyeo too), but unfortunately he’s just the best friend, not even the second lead, or hold on, will he be? Madison, played by Jocelyn Shelfo, gets a special mention because she is a fun side character who might often be considered there just for dry humor. The standout character and performance are by Peter Thurnwald, who plays the new and young teacher Alex, who, like Kitty, is here for a reason. The mix of cultures is evident even though the school is in Korea. It’s a shame that the mission Kitty is on, to find out about her mother, is brushed off as gold leaf added to a painting for final touches. But this isn’t the gold leaf that sticks to the painting, it merely gets brushed off it.
As a veteran of Disney teen rom-com and K-drama watching, there was some sense of nostalgia in XO, Kitty that had me enjoying it as I binged it in one sitting. This is not to say that it’s the best teen romance out there now; in fact, it’s far from it, but it’s also far from the worst thing out there for the genre. XO, Kitty is also wrapped up in the same tropes and ideas that everything else out there right now is making it inauthentic, and that’s why it’s a pass for many. Rather than Kitty, many will be watching this show for the setting alone, and unfortunately, that might be the right approach to it. It’s not like Kitty is a fish out of water; she definitely shouldn’t be at this point, but often times the show takes liberty with her character feeling like an outsider, but not in the “I’m only half” way but in the “I don’t know anything about my own culture” way. Maybe a second season will play out better and iron out the wrinkles left from this pilot first season. There’s no profanity, some kissing teenagers and a lot of shirtless men.
My final thoughts are that XO, Kitty had the potential to be a great amalgamation of Korean drama and American teen drama but became too ambitious a project that was stunted by its use of tropes and familiarity. I would rate this show three out of five stars mainly because I caught myself smiling a few times and because I did really enjoy a lot of the characters, even as teenagers, which is a lot. Would I watch another season? For sure.