XO Kitty fails at the very thing that makes To All The Boys great
Major XO Kitty spoilers follow
It's been two years since the release of To All the Boys: Alway and Forever and we're still not over the perfectly crafted end to Lara Jean's story.
Probably because we've been watching it weekly ever since, but that's beside the point.
Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo) finding a way to make it work, despite their ambitions taking them 3000 miles apart, capped with a gushy love letter, was just a chef's kiss, but we wouldn't expect anything less from a Lara Jean Song-Covey romance.
Her world was one of big gestures, sweeping romances and heady love triangles that ultimately ended with an "LJ + Peter carved into an oak tree" type of vibe. We should know, we spent three films 100% absorbed in that world.
To All the Boys literally spilled out from this character's mind, as though every story – mid, side, main – was glazed in dramatic amour. It was part of what made the franchise so special.
Even so, her younger sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart) was one character who popped to life any time she was on screen.
Kitty was like brightly coloured bubblegum, bursting charisma and energy everywhere. Where Lara Jean was reserved and unsure, Kitty filled in the blanks with her outspoken, bold and vibrant confidence.
From the very beginning, she was giving main-character energy, definitely someone capable of commanding a solo series. Or so you would think.
Fast forward four years from where we left her in the To All the Boys third and final instalment, Always and Forever, and Kitty is much more grown up – although, thankfully, that doesn't mean she's lost her Kitty spark.
Instead, the youngest Song-Covey has used her self-assuredness to wrangle herself a spot at KISS (the Korean Independent School of Seoul) making Korea the setting for her to carve out her own story.
XO Kitty begins with the reunion between her and her long-distance boyfriend Dae (Choi Min-young) and goes on to encapsulate her desire to learn and discover more about her late mum, who also went to KISS.
Instead of mirroring Lara's starry-eyed romance, Kitty's story is one of risk-taking impulsivity that has taken her miles away from everything she's ever known. Yet somehow she has been sidelined in her self-titled show.
Kitty's romance with Dae gets off to a great start. She surprises him and the two fall into a dramatic embrace but their budding match is swiftly derailed by the fact that he has become entangled in a fake relationship with Insta-famous Yuri (Gia Kim).
In exchange for him helping her to mask her homosexuality and her secret girlfriend, Yuri has agreed to pay the financially strapped Dae's tuition.
The temporary arrangement becomes more long term when Yuri's parents use Dae's lower-class status to repair her father's public image after a clip of him publicly humiliating his employee makes it to the news.
Kitty goes on a mission to find out the truth, which sounds pretty Kitty-centric, but Dae and Yuri pull the focus.
We become drawn into Yuri's world, in which her feuding parents flit between neglecting her emotional needs and trying to ignore or bury her sexuality.
Yuri is also mourning the absence of her girlfriend, Juliana (Regan Aliyah), who has been sent to England and banned from having any contact with her after their respective parents discovered their relationship.
Her emotional trauma holds more weight than Kitty's confused heartbreak because of how layered and complex it becomes when you add the rejection by her parents. Consequently, Kitty is pushed out of the centre space.
She finds solace in her friendship with her roommate, Q (Anthony Keyvan), but soon turns her hand to matchmaking, setting him up with his crush, Florian (Théo Augier). Though Q makes time for Kitty despite the excitement of his new relationship, he is the one making room for her in her own story, which once again benches the character.
There was the sliver of hope that her quest to feel more connected to her mum would turn out to be the gooey-warming centre of XO Kitty, thus reaffirming her main-character status… There was hope.
XO Kitty teases the possibility of her mother having had a secret son before marrying Kitty's father, Dan (John Corbett). The mystery child turns out to be Professor Alex (Peter Thurnwald), who has also come to KISS to learn more about his family.
Kitty grows close to the Australian expat, only to learn that he is, in fact, Yuri's long-lost brother, not Kitty's.
We're starting to think it should have been called XO Yuri.
Ultimately, by the time we've made it to the end, Kitty has – in her own words – learnt three things about her mother. Her favourite tree at KISS, that she knew how to play guitar (which we're almost certain she deduced from an old album she already possessed pre-Korea) and that she always saw the beauty of things even when they weren't at their best.
No surprise there. The Covey family spent a trilogy weaving in the goodness of their mum, and how that comes through in her girls, so we won't be handing out prizes for this lacklustre revelation.
The summation of Kitty's learnings laid out in her table-top cafeteria speech to the students feels weak and insubstantial.
The show misses an opportunity to create something meaningful, not only through Kitty's exploration of her mother but also in her learning about her Korean roots.
That's not to say Kitty doesn't have any character development – she does discover that her sexuality is more fluid than she'd considered, and that "meant to be" means something very different in practice than on paper, but it isn't fleshed out enough.
Unlike with To All the Boys where Lara Jean's world was intoxicatingly inescapable, Kitty's slides out of focus.
Her story is filtered through the experiences of others, and what was supposed to be her "stepping into the fore" and "explor[ing] her inner self" ends up being disappointingly one-dimensional.
All episodes of XO Kitty season one are available to watch now on Netflix. The To All The Boys trilogy is also available to stream on Netflix.
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