TV Shows

‘XO, Kitty’ Review: Netflix’s Korea-Set ‘To All the Boys’ Spinoff Is a Charmer

The series follows the youngest Covey sister (Anna Cathcart) to Seoul, where she hopes to reunite with her long-term, long-distance boyfriend.

It’s probably not a surprise that in so many ways, Netflix’s XO, Kitty resembles its sister films, the To All the Boys trilogy. Like the earlier rom-coms, the new spinoff is a pretty, fluffy cupcake of a romance, featuring heroines who fundamentally believe in love and charming, gentle suitors who repay that faith and then some.

But if the appeal of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before lay in how clearly right Lara Jean and Peter were for each other, no matter how many miscommunications or jealous exes were thrown in their path, XO, Kitty takes a different tack. The pleasure of this one is in not knowing who ought to end up with whom, in sighing over the whole tangled web of possibilities stretched out before its characters. The result is a romance that lacks some of the intense chemistry of its predecessors, but makes up for it with a fresh playfulness befitting its sunny heroine.

XO, Kitty is the fulfillment of a promise made way back in 2021’s To All the Boys: Always and Forever, when Kitty (Anna Cathcart) met a cute boy during a family trip to South Korea. Four years later in franchise time, Kitty and Dae (Minyeong Choi) are still an item, albeit one divided by 5,000 miles of ocean. Eager to kick the relationship up a notch with their first kiss, 17-year-old Kitty transfers to the Korean International School of Seoul (conveniently and cutesily acronymed to KISS). That Dae’s school also happens to be where Eve, the late mother Kitty longs to connect to, spent her own junior year is just the cherry on top.

Obviously, things go sideways immediately upon her arrival in Seoul. The Kitty who so confidently orchestrated Peter and LJ’s relationship from middle school is devastated to discover that Dae has a second girlfriend, Yuri (Gia Kim). She’s more confused still when she starts developing feelings for other potential partners. By the finale, the love triangle has blossomed into a sort of love hexagon, with enough loose ends left dangling to string us along into a possible season two.

Along the way, XO, Kitty tosses in every rom-com trope it can think of, with an endearing side of self-awareness. There are fake relationships and enemies-to-lovers and even a PG version of that thing where two people traveling are made to share a single bed — all playing out against the photogenic KISS campus, with its cozy nooks, pastel furniture sets and trees forever in the fullest bloom of spring. (Try not to think too hard about the fact that the story actually takes place in autumn.) “Life ain’t a K-drama,” a classmate scoffs at Kitty — just before Dae makes an entrance with all the slow-mo zoom-ins, angelic lighting, and tinkly music befitting a romantic TV hero.

That XO, Kitty is set in an international school allows it to play the culture-clash aspects of Kitty’s storyline with a light touch. She might be out of the loop on Korean traditions like Chuseok (basically Thanksgiving “minus the genocide,” Yuri deadpans), but she’s hardly an Emily in Paris or a Ted Lasso in London when she’s surrounded by so many characters who either hail from other countries themselves, or who are used to dealing with travelers and expats. The choice also neatly sidesteps trickier conversations about differing cultural attitudes around sex and romance, including in storylines about gay characters.

But it also means that we get limited insight into Kitty’s perspective on the culture that surrounds her, aside from occasional comments like “Even though I’m half-Korean, sometimes I feel like I’m zero.” A storyline about Kitty trying to feel closer to her mother by revisiting some of her favorite spots eventually swerves into a more narratively propulsive but less emotionally resonant mystery about what really went down between Eve and her KISS bestie (Yuri’s mother Jina, played by Yunjin Kim).

XO, Kitty is on more confident footing with the adolescent drama driving the narrative forward. Throughout To All the Boys and Amazon’s The Summer I Turned Pretty, creator Jenny Han has demonstrated a knack for balancing heady romantic complications with a deep well of empathy for the uncertainty of youth. That holds true once again here, with Cathcart and Choi as a would-be golden couple forced to consider whether the puppy love of their tween years is enough to sustain them through high school.

But as in so many teen shows, it’s the vaguely villainous characters who make the biggest impressions. Kim taps into the loneliness coursing just beneath Yuri’s icy mean-girl exterior, and Sang Heon Lee steals every scene he’s in as Dae’s snobby best friend Min Ho, whether he’s bickering with Kitty in class or fussing over his elaborate skincare routine in his dorm.

With so many characters and crisscrossing attractions to keep track of, a few can’t help but feel underserved. Anthony Keyvan is the funny, supportive best friend of any angst-ridden teen’s dreams as Q, but his own romance with classmate Florian (Théo Augier) plays out like an afterthought to Kitty’s turmoil. (No wonder he grumbles that he’d rather “shove scissors in my ears” than listen to Kitty complain about her problems yet again.) Meanwhile, XO, Kitty is able to generate more chemistry in some of its pairings than others — and the ones that burn brightest aren’t necessarily the ones the scripts are most invested in pushing.

But the messiness is part and parcel of the show’s take on growing up. “A reason, a season, or a lifetime. Every relationship fits into one of those categories,” a rejected suitor reassures himself. And though the friend he’s talking to looks skeptical, the series seems to take his point to heart. Not all the dizzying array of romances laid out before us will end in true love and happily ever after. XO, Kitty makes sure they’re worth savoring all the same.


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