When To All the Boys I Loved Before debuted on Netflix, it caught lightning in a bottle. It turned Noah Centeneo and Lana Condor into instant stars. Fans of teen romcoms rejoiced. They finally had a fun return to the subgenre. The following two films were met with mixed success, but Netflix sought to continue the story. XO, Kitty brings back the energy of the first film. It has intriguing characters, nods to K-Dramas, and a hyper-talented cast. XO, Kitty quickly establishes itself as a series with a unique voice.
Kitty Song Covey (Anna Cathcart) fell in love with her long-distance boyfriend. Dae (Choi Min-young) lives in Soeul. The two talk every day on FaceTime and text when they’re not on video. Kitty realizes Dae attends the Korean Independent School of Seoul (KISS), the same school her mom attended as a teenager. When KISS calls her with a scholarship, Kitty flies to Soeul to surprise her boyfriend. However, she discovers Dae has another girlfriend – the popular Yuri (Gia Kim). What’s worse, Yuri’s mother Jina (Yunjin Kim) runs KISS and holds a secret about Kitty’s mom.
XO, Kitty never shies away from its subject matter, and makes the stakes appropriately intriguing. In this world, teen problems revolve around making out and Scooby-Doo antics. There’s no shame on screen. Instead, XO, Kitty actively owns its similarities to K-Dramas with mini-parodies throughout. Playing into the tropes helps it establish a unique style for American audiences and raises the parody aspect for Korean viewers. The combination proves effective. Even if you have never seen a K-Drama, these moments feel universal enough that you’ll laugh along with the show.
Cathcart proves herself talented over the season. She occasionally struggled with the dramatic material, but her bubbly personality shines through. At one point, a character notes she’s too dang likable for her own good. This rings true as we watch Cathcart. She brings an infectious excitement and hope that breaks through any cynicism. In addition, Cathcart brings the exact combination of fun and comedic timing the series needs.
The rest of the ensemble thrives with their material. Rather than pushing off drama and keeping secrets, XO, Kitty leaves less than 25 minutes between the creation of conflict and addressing it. Characters quickly change and adapt to their new problem of the week. The actors get to showcase their talent as a result.
The standout is Yunjin Kim, who proves herself as capable as ever. The former Lost star brings professionalism and conservative ideology into the series. Her strictness towards the students and her daughter creates a perfect antagonistic force for the series.
The teens pop as well. Choi Min-young brings the conflicted nature of his character out. It’s a challenging tightrope of simmering anger and genuine excitement about seeing Kitty every day. His straight man plays well against the silliness present elsewhere. Kim does not always succeed with her dramatic elements, but she amplifies the chemistry between characters every time she appears. Anthony Keyvan gets the most Purdy enjoyable role of the boys. He displays an infectious level of fun in nearly every scene. Sang Heon Lee gets to play into the rich boy caricature and does so with total commitment to the bit.
XO, Kitty gets a fair amount of humor in Kitty’s fish-out-water circumstances. Her inability to succeed as a student or in her social life are quite funny. This allows XO, Kitty to embrace its setting in Soeul. It highlights the city nicely, and the culture seeps into every corner of the show. XO, KItty is a truly bi-lingual series as well. It’s easy to have cynicism on that front: Netflix has invested heavily in K-Dramas. However, this also proves necessary for the series to achieve its unique perspective. An all-English school in Korea would kill any ties to the culture present on the screen. While English remains the dominant language throughout most of the series, the multicultural aspect of the show becomes one of its strengths.
While To All the Boys I Love Before might be over, XO, Kitty promises more time in this world. Author Jenny Han proves that she’s got plenty more story to tell, and her intricate plotting makes for perfect TV. The breezy half-hour series quickly becomes a comfort watch and should see success for years to come.