If “XO, Kitty” — Netflix’s latest “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” spinoff series — had to be described in one word, it would be drama.
Lara Jean’s (Lana Condor, “Boo, Bitch”) younger, meddling sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart, “Odd Squad”) goes one step further than her “To All the Boys” antics when she decides to apply to the South Korean boarding school that her long-distance boyfriend, Dae (Minyeong Choi, “You Are My Spring”), attends. But her reasoning for going to the Korean Independent School of Seoul (KISS) extends beyond true love: Kitty’s mom, Eve, who passed away when she was little, also attended KISS when she was a junior in high school, meaning Kitty’s chance at love was also a chance to connect to her mom.
Upon her arrival at KISS, however, Kitty quickly learns that her hopes and dreams for the school year (romantic and otherwise) will be more complicated than she anticipated: When she meets one of her mom’s friends and fellow KISS alum — the current principal of KISS, Jina (Yunjin Kim, “Money Heist: Korea — Joint Economic Area”), she faces a suspicious denial of their relationship; when she finally meets Dae, she also meets his girlfriend, Yuri (Gia Kim, “Happy Ending”) — her first acquaintance and Jina’s daughter.
The relationships between the characters grow more complex as the series progresses and secrets are uncovered. Though Kitty claims to be a “matchmaker” throughout the show, she proves herself to be an even better detective as she investigates her mother’s life at KISS and the romances — real and fake — that shaped her experiences at KISS, as well as those that will shape Kitty’s.
While “XO, Kitty” embraces the aesthetics and romance of the To All the Boys franchise, the show makes an effort to incorporate themes and choices typical of K-dramas. From over-the-top slow motion embraces to convoluted contract relationships, it’s clear that “XO, Kitty” was designed and produced under the influence of the genre. This influence helps to establish “XO, Kitty” as its own product, separate from the To All the Boys franchise. It allows Kitty’s story to flourish as opposed to living in the shadow of the successful trilogy, while also paying homage to it with the quirky humor, dramatic romances and youthful energy that is classic to the franchise.
Cathcart is also responsible for the success of “XO, Kitty,” as she manages to create a bubbly, contagious persona on screen. Her commitment to Kitty’s high-energy personality and romantic worldview ensures a realistic portrayal of high school drama and priorities without succumbing to stereotypical drama or feuds. For instance, though it is known that Kitty and Yuri are far from friends, Kitty is quick to stand up for Yuri when a flirtatious boy tries to put her down to win Kitty over. “Yuri and I may not be friends, but who are you to talk about her like that? Women are not just here for your judging pleasure,” she tells him.
Where “XO, Kitty” truly flourishes, though, is in its incorporation of Queer storylines. In addition to the complex and conscientious Queer characters Kitty befriends, Kitty herself has a “chaotic bisexual” awakening. Viewers watch Kitty navigate unfamiliar feelings and desires for Yuri — which of course are made more complicated by their contentious friendship — while she simultaneously recognizes her deep-rooted feelings for Dae. Kitty’s confusion, joy, fear and hope are realistically explored and portrayed by Cathcart and are heartened by the other multidimensional Queer storylines.
The show builds up the drama for nine episodes, but simultaneously attempts to wrap up the plot while opening new doors for a future season. At the end of Kitty’s semester at KISS, the question of who has her heart still remains. The finale is a whirlwind of emotions and confessions, so much so to the point where viewers have almost no way of knowing where Kitty’s story could go next. It seems we’ll only know if that’s a good or bad thing once we get season two.