Here is the secret to enjoying XO, Kitty, Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before spinoff show: The sooner you realize it’s actually a completely different ballgame from the mainline To All the Boys movies, the sooner you will enjoy it.
The main trilogy of movies are coming-of-age romantic comedies, which had their own whimsical moments, but were mostly grounded in reality. XO, Kitty, however, fully launches into teen drama territory. It’s Degrassi with a K-drama makeover. And somehow, despite all that, it’s also still incredibly PG-13, with very chaste makeouts and no one raring to go underage drinking. (In fact, the one time they do, it becomes a huge problem.)
High school TV shows tend to be more over-the-top than their cinematic counterparts, but this is a particularly interesting case study since there is a direct movie comparison to make. From the get-go, the plot is already a bit more convoluted and overexaggerated than the comparably straightforward To All the Boys movies. Lara Jean’s younger sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart) decides that she wants to reconnect with her long-distance boyfriend and also learn more about her Korean heritage, so she applies to an international school in Korea. The show wastes no time from her pitch to her dad to getting her on the plane to Korea, waving away any wait time because Kitty did a whole application without telling anyone in her family. Sure!
Anyway, Kitty’s in Korea and she finds out that her boyfriend is actually dating a rich socialite! Gasp! That would be dramatic on its own, but there’s something off about that relationship that’s hiding a bigger secret (and Kitty, with her superior matchmaking senses, detects this from one press conference livestream). Also Kitty’s mom might have a dark and stormy past, and also Kitty was accidentally placed in the boys’ dorms, and also Kitty might just fail all her classes.
It’s a lot, and if you’re still mentally comparing Kitty’s story to Lara Jean’s, it feels very jarring. Especially when it comes to the characters. Everyone in Lara Jean’s life acts pretty much like a normal, albeit maybe a smidge dramatic, teenager. However, everyone in Kitty’s story — and even Kitty herself — is completely unhinged. There is maybe one character who acts like a normal well-adjusted human being who has the interests of their fellow people in mind. Everyone else is often selfish, Machiavellian, and unable to have a basic conversation.
Make no mistake — this is not a bad thing, especially once you realize that it’s simply a genre feature. How else are they supposed to have hilarious, over-the-top misunderstandings? Talk it out like reasonable people? Bah! Every plot point in XO, Kitty is taken to the extreme. Every relationship is hyperbolized. Unlike other teen shows like Never Have I Ever, where the characters might react dramatically but the drama itself is still pretty grounded, XO, Kitty is one step away from being a full-fledged soap opera, true to its K-drama roots.
Because everyone is a bad person, there is no specific bad guy to hate on, so you kinda end up liking all of them in the end, in some sort of twisted way. Every episode ends on a big cliffhanger, so you end up needing to watch the next one right away. It commits to the extremes, and in that way, it’s more tonally cohesive than the To All the Boys movies, which switch to a more straightforward coming-of-age story after the rom-com hook of the first movie gets resolved.
A lesser show might try to ground some of the over-the-top elements, but XO, Kitty fully embraces every single hyperbole of the genre and uses it to construct a wild roller coaster of a high school show. Coming all together like this, these aren’t faults but instead add up to some ricocheting fun. It’s the sort of show that makes you scream at your screen when a character makes a completely ridiculous choice, and then immediately click “next episode” because you have to see just where the hell this is going next. Just make sure to hold on to your baseball caps and strap in tight, as XO, Kitty launches off at high speeds and never once slows down.
XO, Kitty is streaming on Netflix now.