From our understanding of Kitty’s character from the To All The Boys franchise and the general setup in the XO, Kitty trailer, a modern, diverse retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma seemed like the route this spin-off series was headed. The end result was pleasantly surprising. The show—out this week on Netflix—has a dynamic plot with many twists and turns.
Creator and lead writer Jenny Han, also the author of the To All The Boys novel series, brings her experience from being the creative lead on the television adaptation of her series The Summer I Turned Pretty to this one, providing a series that is a wonderful and wholesome binge.
As far as pilots go, XO, Kitty expertly gives the audience everything they need to know about the backstory and motivations for the beginning of this story. We get a bit of a recap for the To All The Boys series, a little bit about Kitty’s (Anna Cathcart) disconnection with her mom, Kitty’s long-distance relationship with a boy in Korea and her proactive nature all within the first ten minutes. But then the show heads to Korea, and a whole host of new characters.
If you’re unfamiliar with K-Dramas, you may also experience a bit of culture shock with the difference in pace and style between our Western-traditional television and Korean-style drama, which is typically more conservative and slowly paced. There’s definitely a mix between K-Drama and Western TV in XO, Kitty. The show uses both English and Korean dialogue, a nod to Kitty’s dual heritage. The music includes plenty of K-Pop magical realism, and the storylines are filled with tropes offering predictability and comfort, all while slightly diverting from expectations. We’re also greeted with monologued thoughts and narration from Kitty throughout the series. At times, it’s charming and helpful but can also be overkill for what story elements are already understood through visual cues.
Obviously, this is Netflix, so the binge-model takes center stage with XO, Kitty‘s plots. Most of what shocked me or made me giggle with excitement happened in the middle of the episodes rather than at the end. It works for Netflix, but I don’t think it manages what it tries to replicate from weekly episodic K-Drama structures. Despite these issues, it’s impossible not to love XO, Kitty. The casting was perfect; every character had an arc, a compelling story to follow, and a riveting portrayal.
Of course, the main storyline is about Kitty leaving for the Korean International School of Seoul (KISS) to connect more with her mother, who died when she was young. She also finally gets in-person time with her boyfriend Dae (Minyeong Choi). However, like in most stories, things immediately do not go to plan. Dae gets caught up in a Cinderella/fake dating scenario by the family, while corporate drama surrounds KISS student Yuri (Gia Kim), her mother and KISS’s principal, Jina (Yunjin Kim) and her father, the CEO of a major hospitality corporation in the middle of a significant merger.
The intricate weaving and layers to Kitty’s story span into every side character’s arc. It’s not just Dae and Yuri who complicate her studies at KISS, but also the messy past of her mother’s exploits at the school involving Principal Jina and Professor Lee (Michael K Lee), who were both students at the same time as Kitty’s mom. Kitty also gets involved in the love lives of Dae’s best friends Min Ho (Sang Heon Lee) and Q (Anthony Keyvan) which she interferes in as a notorious matchmaker.
Gia Kim portrays Yuri as a complicated character. It’s a rollercoaster understanding her emotions and motivations, but through Kitty’s eyes, Yuri sneaks into your heart. She may seem like a spoiled Queen B at KISS, but then her image crumbles in front of the audience as we see how much she’s hiding about herself for her family’s public image. It might take a minute to like her, but by the end of the series, she’s one of the best characters. .
My favorite character was Q (Anthony Keyvan), who’s instantly the charming, sweet, and sensitive best friend you could ever have. He’s introduced as one of Dae’s best friends, but he and Kitty become inseparable and bond over shared experiences, mutual compassion, and matcha.
XO, Kitty is a sweet, romantic coming-of-age story that Emily In Paris wishes it could be. Hopefully they get a second season—Kitty’s love life is still up in the air, her mother’s story is still a mystery, and every side character deserves their happy ending.
Feature image courtesy of Park Young-Sol/Netflix
XO, Kitty is available to stream on Netflix.
XO, Kitty - 8/10