Do not watch it! That would be my first warning about Netflix’s newest series XO, Kitty. Sadly, as I did watch it for curiosity and finished it for reasons I cannot remember, I will tell you more about it and why you should keep it away.
Let me start by saying that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of my favorite young adult romance novels. If not THE favorite. I love the setup, the characters, and the storyline – I love all the fluff it offers. There are multiple copies of the book on my shelf and I even have a signed copy. So yes, I am a fan of Jenny Han’s writing. When it comes to the screen adaptations… not so much.
My dislike for the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy never made it to Mettel Ray because the disappointment was too immense. Even now I would love to avoid the discussion because it hurts. Needless to say, I never finished the Netflix trilogy which did sadly garner quite a lot of support. I say sadly because the success of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before lead to XO, Kitty.
Off the Rails From the Start
I honestly don’t even know where to begin… XO, Kitty follows Kitty Song Covey (Anna Cathcart), the younger sister of Lara Jean Covey, the protagonist of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Kitty as the youngest of three sisters is in high school and decides to follow her path. Or more precisely the path of her mother she never really got a chance to know. This leads to the main plot of the series – studying abroad in South Korea!
But there is another reason Kitty is excited to go to South Korea. Her pen pal Dae (Choi Min-Yeong), is a Korean teenage boy she is in a sort of long-distance relationship with. As a girl who loves romance, she decides to surprise Dae on her day of arrival in Seoul. But of course, things don’t go as planned. And if the beginning of XO, Kitty was somehow tolerable, it starts to go off the rails the moment Kitty arrives in South Korea, to KISS (that is the name of the school by the way).
Multiple storylines add to the plot and make the entire show messy as f*ck. The premise of XO, Kitty focuses on so many storylines, and for some reason, it tries to do all of them all at once. But without the finesse of Everything All at Once it fails to offer any depth. Meaning we hop from one meaningless storyline to another, never really feeling fulfilled by any of them.
First – Kitty meets her pen pal Dae who is apparently in a relationship. Then she ends up in a boy’s dorm – a plot point that could offer so much comedy and yet it’s as dull as Dae. And yes, Dae is so boring. Dae is a nice guy but the series gives him nothing. He has to be on top of his class to maintain his scholarship but the only time we see him studying is to help Kitty. In my opinion, Dae is there as a prop.
THEN we get a closeted gay character Juliana (Regan Aliyah) who is faking a relationship to please her parents. A ploy to tug on the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before nostalgia as it also featured a fake relationship. Not to mention the woke points. To add to that we have family/company drama which never leads anywhere. Then a mean Korean boy Min Ho (Sang Heon Lee) is also heavily underused despite being the most interesting character in the mix. Now drop some possible love child and a half-brother into the plot, and have the possible half-brother show up!! and then explore that haphazardly. All while failing all your classes which will lead to another plot in the second half which is a study marathon.
Though half of these things could have been explored in later seasons (if there are going to be any), we have to witness them all. But since XO, Kitty never really finds its focus, we are left with navigating a mess. A mess that never unravels and progressively gets worse and worse and worse…
Exploration of Korean Culture Falls Flat
As somebody who is very interested in Korean culture, I found Kitty’s exploration of her roots incredibly shallow. With K-pop hits blasting in the background the viewer is thrown into South Korea, Seoul and all we get is an American teen whining, pining, and wearing the same nail polish colour for the entire semester.
The majority of the plot for Kitty happens in KISS (the school), where she is surrounded by international students. The first Korean word she utters is hello and it happens in episode 4, twice, and she never does it again. Some Korean characters speak in English with each other, while no other person is around. It makes no sense and it shouldn’t make sense because it feels unauthentic.
To have a show that relies heavily on exploring another culture, it should at least try to incorporate the culture. Don’t get me wrong, there are scenes where the Korean characters are speaking in their native language and that’s great! There are Korean actors in the show which is amazing but it shouldn’t be a point of praise. If you are making a series that takes place in Seoul having Korean actors is given, hearing Korean is given. But what else?
The lack of culture in general is what bothers me the most. There is one scene where Kitty is in the city trying to find her way, in the pilot episode. Then the whole semester she doesn’t even go shopping. Doesn’t go to a concert? Doesn’t go biking by the Han River. A weekend trip to the mountains? An evening in a singing room? She went to Korea and she stayed at the school campus the entire time!? And the relationship montage doesn’t count!! It’s not even about showing culture anymore, it’s sheer logic, and XO, Kitty doesn’t have any of it.
To have a big part of the plot is Kitty’s need to connect to her dead mother’s roots but not doing it properly is a waste of potential. We get it, Kitty’s now going to the same school as her mother but how about everything else? The series was filmed in Seoul but Seoul is never present, they could have filmed this in a studio and it would have made no difference. And yes I’m angry about this because I feel I’ve been robbed.
At the end of the day, I feel like Korea was simply a token of attention. Korean pop culture is slowly gaining more attention and fans. I included. So it doesn’t surprise me that American shows are trying to tap into the Korean Wave and benefit from its popularity. What disappoints me is laziness. The problem with XO, Kitty is not its attempt to reap from the success of Kpop and Kdramas, but its lack of integrity. It seems to have no respect for Korean culture as it never really tries to submerge itself into it.
The Korean Wave or Hallyu is a cultural phenomenon in which the global popularity of South Korean popular culture has dramatically risen since the 1990s. Worldwide interest in Korean culture has been led primarily by the spread of K-pop and K-dramas.
Emily in Paris comes to mind and even though I have not watched a single minute of it, I know it suffered from the same problem. But at least Emily explored Paris! I have seen stills of her in cafes and in the parks, which is already more than Kitty ever did. I don’t know if it’s laziness, lack of knowledge, or sheer indifference but I see it as wasted potential.
Because at the heart of it XO, Kitty does something very right. It plays around with the idea of a show that emerges two cultures and I’d love that! And as I’m imagining what could have been, the disappointment towards XO, Kitty gets even deeper. But I don’t think it’s a problem for just XO, Kitty, and the mentioned Emily in Paris. Many shows incorporate other cultures and do it with a lack of knowledge. Sometimes it feels like even with a lack of respect.
But there are a few shows who try to submerge into another culture so deeply as XO, Kitty sets itself out to do. It isn’t enough to have some dialog in Korean, to have Korean actors and to play K-pop hits to appease those who appreciate Korean culture. And the viewers agree because XO, Kitty only has a 58% on Rotten Tomatoes. Ironically the critics love it with 85% deeming it fresh which honestly baffles me.
The Love Quadruple & Hopes for Season 2
Last but not least I want to talk more about the love quadruple in the center of XO, Kitty. In the center of this, we have Kitty, who has flown to Seoul to be with her first Love Dae. Then we have the mean Korean boy Min Ho who represents our hate-to-love trope. The best thing XO, Kitty does is add another person into the mix, Juliana, who throws our character Kitty into a frenzy. To have her question her sexuality and her feelings is an interesting idea. But sadly it stays as an idea because the series does nothing with this!
First of all the crush Kitty develops for Juliana never feels real. Maybe it’s the writing that falls short or the acting but it feels so off from the start. There is a lack of chemistry between the characters which makes the life-changing decision in episode 10 feel especially shallow. The only character Kitty has a hint of chemistry is Min Ho. Yet his character is rarely explored. His character gets an international student, a famous actress mother, divorced parents, insane cooking skills, a posh accent, and a sexy dream about Kitty. Yet somehow the series fails to elevate his character, wasting again so much potential. Not to mention his confession in the finale was very rushed and weird. And that was truly about the writing.
It sets the series up for the second season. It teases the plot that as an idea makes the most sense in this entire 10-episode catastrophe. And knowing Netflix it could very well be the reason why XO, Kitty gets a second season. A season that would probably start with Kitty and Min Ho exploring Los Angeles together and flying back to Seoul together and uprooting yet another season of 4582 storylines that go nowhere.
Will I watch it? Probably. But just so I can whine about it later on.
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