Back in 2018, Netflix launched its “Summer of Love” slate, which featured six original romantic comedies that brought excitement to a fading genre. Among the stand-out films was Susan Johnson’s adaptation of Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. The story of Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky’s (Noah Centineo) fake-romance-turned-real was an instant success, capturing the hearts of viewers with its endearing characters, relatable themes, and undeniable chemistry between the leads.
This was obviously a franchise worth keeping alive, and when Netflix announced a spinoff series centered around Lara Jean’s younger sister, it felt like a natural extension of the story. On the surface, XO, Kitty even seems like an ambitious expansion of the original universe. By infusing the traditional teen rom-com formula with elements of K-Drama, it promised a new layer of cultural exchange, introducing viewers to the world of Korean storytelling and the unique dynamics of its characters. (Naturally, this could also help the franchise reach a more global audience.) But despite its interesting premise, the series is too unoriginal in its storytelling and too clunky in its execution to break any meaningful ground.
Helmed by showrunners Jenny Han and Sascha Rothchild, XO, Kitty follows Kitty Song Covey (Anna Cathcart), the youngest of the three Covey sisters, on her own romantic adventure. She’s entering her junior year of high school at the same age as Lara Jean in the first movie. But instead of continuing her life in her hometown of Portland, she decides to move halfway across the world, transferring into the Korean Independent School of Seoul (KISS) to reunite with her long-distance boyfriend, Dae (Minyeong Choi). When she arrives on campus, Kitty discovers that her childhood sweetheart is in a relationship with someone new, but rather than fall to pieces, she resolves to make the most of her time in Seoul, taking the semester to learn as much as she can about not just her late mother, but her own heart.
At first, this is delightful. Rather than linger too heavily on unnecessary exposition, the pilot launches Kitty directly into her core conflict and allows a colorful cast of young talent to lead the story. Cathcart maintains Kitty’s effervescent spark while also introducing a new depth that the original films didn’t have a chance to explore. She’s still the same bubbly matchmaker that viewers fell in love with in 2018, but there’s now a notable edge to her personality, thanks to her newfound independence.
Meanwhile, Choi serves as a wonderful rom-com leading man. He brings a softness to Dae, convincingly expressing sweet yearning every time he glances in Kitty’s direction. Anthony Keyvan is also charming as Q, Kitty’s new best friend and main confidante. Though underutilized, he has enough charisma to steal every scene he’s in. And Kitty’s main rival Yuri (Gia Kim) has a particularly compelling storyline, both within and separate from Kitty’s arc. Yuri’s relationship with her mom Jina (Yunjin Kim) is especially riveting, as it intersects with Kitty’s quest to understand her own mother’s past.
But interesting characters can’t make up for uneven pacing. XO, Kitty packs way too much into its 10 half-hour episodes, causing many of the storylines to feel underdeveloped. Another one of Kitty’s rivals, Min Ho (Sang Heon Lee), is particularly short-changed. Despite having several opportunities to develop some depth, he’s mostly limited to comic relief. His strained relationship with his famous mom is hinted at numerous times, yet it isn’t given enough space to have a proper impact. Similarly, Q is limited to a reductive role as the gay best friend. While he does get his own romance, almost all of his conversations with Kitty are about what’s going on in her life. By sidelining his narrative, major developments in his own relationship don’t come to the fore until the very end of the season, when it’s too late for them to resonate.
Yet for all its rushed storytelling, XO, Kitty also bombards the audience with revelations that are clearly meant to elicit gasps. In its attempt to subvert audience expectations, though, the series dismantles multiple dynamics it has spent five to six episodes building. The latter half of the season is spent setting up a variety of major plot twists that feel as though they were thrown together in a frenzy. In doing so, the writers make an unconvincing case that certain emerging relationships and storylines are worth rooting for. What’s left is an overstuffed yet underwhelming teen drama that tries a bit too hard to be different.
XO, Kitty is available to stream on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Dianna Shen is a TV Writer at Primetimer based in New York. Her work has been featured in Paste Magazine and Decider, among other outlets.
TOPICS: XO, Kitty, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Anna Cathcart, Anthony Keyvan, Choi Min-yeong, Gia Kim, Jenny Han, Sang Heon Lee, Yunjin Kim