When fans of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy heard that there would be a spin-off series starring Lara Jean Song Covey’s (Lana Condor) little sister, Kitty (Anna Cathcart), we were excited to see this scene stealer carry her own show. Unfortunately, XO, Kitty has none of the charm and humor that made us fall in love with Kitty in the first place. It tries, to the point of overkill — but the plotlines are so contrived and frankly ridiculous that this sequel doesn’t even reach so-bad-it’s-good territory.
For the uninitiated, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before follows teenager Lara Jean Song Covey, who wants to find true love so badly that she writes letters to all the boys she’s ever had a crush on. She keeps the letters safe in a box, knowing that the guys she’s pined for will never read them — until Kitty finds the letters and mails them as a way to help her sister find true love. One of the boys, Peter (Noah Centineo), is the popular kid at Lara Jean’s school and, by the time he receives her letter, she in no way still has the feelings for him that she used to. When he reads the letter, though, he proposes that he and Lara Jean enter into a fake relationship as a way for him to eventually win back his ex-girlfriend. Of course, this being based on a Jenny Han rom-com YA novel, they end up falling in love with each other. Two subsequent films and books — P.S. I Still Love You and Always and Forever — continue Peter and Lara Jean’s story through the end of high school as they navigate their way toward college and life beyond. Kitty plays an integral role in their relationship; in a sense, she’s the one who brought them together, so she fancies herself a matchmaker.
Kitty’s matchmaker tendencies and a fake relationship both come into play in her spinoff series, and neither conceit works nearly as well as in the To All the Boys trilogy. When her family, which is half-Korean, takes a trip to Korea in Always and Forever, Kitty meets and falls for Dae (Minyeong Choi), with whom she begins a long-distance relationship. She constantly refers to him as her best friend and boyfriend, and she FaceTimes with him frequently. So, when she gets the chance, Kitty applies for a scholarship to the Korean Independent School of Seoul — KISS, for short — where Dae happens to be a student. Kitty frames it as a trip designed for her to learn more about her mother, who passed away before the events of To All the Boys and also went to KISS. Because there wouldn’t be a show if he didn’t, Kitty’s dad Dan (John Corbett) agrees to let her go halfway around the world for her junior year of high school. It takes very little convincing on Kitty’s part. After a slideshow presentation designed to convey how much she wants to go, and with encouragement from her stepmom, Trina (Sarayu Blue), Dad says yes. Only after Kitty leaves the room does he realize he just agreed to let his youngest daughter travel to a foreign country, basically to have sex with her boyfriend.
‘XO, Kitty’s Premise Is the First of Many Contrivances
Kitty is 16 and apparently goes to the airport by herself to fly to South Korea for a year — never mind that she doesn’t seem to know any Korean beyond “hello” and is still a minor. At the airport, she sees a boy (Sang Heon Lee) in a KISS blazer who pretends to not speak English when she approaches him. He’ll come into play later, don’t worry. Because of course he will. Kitty doesn’t tell Dae she’s coming because she wants to surprise him. But when she finally gets to see him again at KISS’s welcome party, she finds out he has a girlfriend, Yuri (Gia Kim). And so begins a series of numerous misunderstandings played for laughs that don’t work — because how many times can a person be interrupted when they’re about to say something important? At some point, you’re actually going to get the words out. Apparently not in the world of this show, though, and it’s incredibly frustrating to watch.
As with most rom-coms, the plotlines are totally expected and predictable. That could be forgiven, however, if you’re really invested in the relationships of the show. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get invested in any part of XO, Kitty, especially its love stories. There’s a fake relationship with no chemistry, and there’s a supposed real relationship with no chemistry — between Kitty and Dae. Granted, their situation started as a long-distance thing, but surely there should be some spark when they see each other in person again. In fact, Kitty has been bragging to her older sisters that she’s going to have her first kiss at KISS (Get it? How could you not?), but whenever the moment seems primed to happen, it feels forced because of the lack of on-screen connection between Kitty and Dae. The only chemistry to be found in XO, Kitty happens between Dae’s friend Q (Anthony Keyvan) and his crush, Florian (Théo Augier Bonaventure), although that’s a side plot, not the main romance of the show.
What’s more irritating is that despite being half-Korean and having visited Korea before, Kitty seems completely ignorant of the culture, not to mention the aforementioned language barrier. At one point, she serves her famous mashed potatoes at a holiday party, blissfully unaware that most Koreans are lactose intolerant. Cue the poop jokes and people running to the restroom to relieve themselves. One of the most glaring discrepancies in the culture is that Kitty ends up rooming with Dae, Q, and Min Ho (the guy from the airport) because she didn’t understand the dorm room assignments. It’s difficult to suspend the disbelief that a supposedly conservative school would make such an oversight — and then not even catch onto the fact that there’s a girl in the boys’ dorm after the fact. The rooming mix-up is just one of the many wholly unbelievable situations Kitty gets herself into.
It’s also a bit of a stretch to see so many characters defaulting to speaking English rather than Korean. Given the setting, it would make sense that the series would include more scenes where KISS’s faculty, staff, and students are wielding the native language. Part of the problem is that several of the series’ actors feel much more stilted when they have to deliver their lines in English. It would have likely only benefited their performances if they had been given the ability to use their native tongue, as their characters would most likely do in their native country. Unfortunately, the very premise of XO, Kitty doesn’t help this aspect of the show — because its titular character, who’s attending school for a year in Korea, doesn’t speak the language.
Cathcart was so charming in the To All the Boys trilogy that it’s a shame both her and her character’s potential was wasted on a mess like XO, Kitty, with its poorly conceived premise, contrived situations played for laughs, and lack of chemistry. If YA rom-coms are what you’re in the mood for, then you’d be much better served by rewatching the franchise’s original movies, another series based on Han’s books (like The Summer I Turned Pretty), or perhaps even a good K-drama.
XO, Kitty premieres May 18 on Netflix.