XO, Kitty Series Review: A hyperbolic high-school romance that is formulaic yet entertaining
With exaggerated conflicts, XO, Kitty has too many things on its plate, yet its self-awareness makes it an entertaining binge-watch
The genre of coming-of-age, high-school romance is not new to Jenny Han, the creator of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (TATBILB), and The Summer I Turned Pretty. Now, she is back with XO, Kitty, a spin-off to TATBILB. Those who have watched and loved the original may start watching the series in an attempt to relive the world through the eyes of Lara Jean’s (Lana Condor) younger sister Kitty Covey (an impressive Anna Cathcart). However, just two episodes into the series, one would realise that the stories are nothing alike. With overexaggerated and convoluted conflicts all throughout the 10 episodes, XO, Kitty has too many things on its plate, yet its self-awareness makes it an entertaining binge-watch.
Creator: Jenny Han
Starring: Anna Cathcart, Choi Min-young, Anthony Keyvan, Gia Kim, Sang Heon Lee
Kitty Song Covey, who meets Dae (played by an apt Choi Min-young) at the end of To All the Boys: Always and Forever, decides to shift to Seoul, South Korea, to be with him in person. She applies for a scholarship at his school, the Korean Independent School of Seoul (KISS), which also happens to be her late mother Eve Song Covey’s school. She then embarks on a journey of discovery and romance in Seoul.
Now, the makers don’t take much time to jump into the story. Within the first ten minutes, Kitty has already reached Seoul. The overdramatisation of things starts right there. Kitty, who is entirely new to Seoul, and barely knows Korean, starts navigating through the developed streets of the city to reach her boarding school. Now, which 16-year-old is actually capable of doing so? While such instances instantly seem unrealistic, the hyperbole effect actually works because the creators are completely aware of their puffery. It is established that Kitty can navigate through a new city as she has optimism that reaches for the skies. Although her trip to Korea is termed a disaster on day one, she ends up staying in an attempt to unveil her mother’s past. Moments like these make the audience willingly suspend their disbelief to completely enter the world of make-believe.
What next? Kitty has all the problems of the world falling on her head. New to Korea, her boyfriend is dating the affluent and influential Yuri (Gia Kim), yet something’s fishy about their relationship. At the same time, several factors suggest that her mother might have had a controversial past in the city, which Kitty has to investigate. And somehow, she is also failing all her classes and does not even have a dorm room to stay. Literally, every single episode ends with a new conflict forcing the audience to binge the next episode as well.
XO, Kitty scores brownie points for diversity. Kitty herself is biracial, half-American, half-Korean. We also have a mix of ethnicities, like the half-Iranian half-American Q, a friend of Dae played by Anthony Keyvan. Yuri and Dae often resort to speaking Korean, making the series half a K-Drama. We also learn quite a few aspects of Korean culture from Kitty’s perspective, like their harvest festival Chuseok. Still, some aspects of the representation seem ambiguous. For instance, all the Korean and American students in the school somehow speak English with an American accent. Now, I am not sure if this is the case because the school is an international one (it has not been established anywhere).
The series unties the knots and connects the dots one after another. The beautifully dealt aspect of the series is its portrayal of romance and sexual orientation. There are a lot of heart-fluttering, butterflies-in-the-tummy moments in the series without any steamy or voyeuristic portrayal of the young teenagers. The LGBTQ+ representation in the series is also on point. Yet, there’s just one problem.
Due to the chaotic number of conflicts in the protagonist’s life, the story becomes incapable of providing depth to characters, except for Kitty (of course), so much so that some of the characters keep repeating “Not everybody is on Kitty’s timeline”. For starters, we don’t really get to know that much about the life of Choi Min-Young’s Dae before Kitty entered his life. We only know he is Kitty’s perfect first boyfriend. Gia Kim’s extremely convincing performance as Yuri goes to waste as her potential is not fully tapped. The same goes with Sang Heon Lee’s Min Ho who starts out as Kitty’s hater, eventually having a change of heart.
At the end of it all, the series does not make the viewer feel like they wasted their time. At the same time, it does not exactly keep them waiting for a second season as well. A friend recently told me that some films/series are like ice cream, it keeps you happy while you eat it, but doesn’t exactly fill your stomach once you’re done. XO, Kitty is the perfect example of such a series. While the story may be predictable and formulaic, the 30-minute format makes it an easy binge-watch.