Netflix's Holiday Rom-Com Series 'Dash & Lily' Will Win Over Even the Biggest Grinch
Consider me charmed.
Trust me, I was tempted to roll my eyes at Netflix's latest holiday offering Dash & Lily, a YA rom-com infused with Yuletide cheer. The eight episode series follows the alternating stories of two star-crossed kids who communicate via a series of written dares. Dash (Euphoria's Austin Abrams), the more cynical of the two, finds a red journal left by Lily (Midori Francis) tucked in between two copies of J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey at beloved New York bookstore The Strand, and the chase in on. It's twee! It's corny! But damned if I wasn't suckered by the aggressive charm of this little spree. Dash & Lily is the kind of teen content I would have loved when I was a teenager, and while I'm less naïve now, I'm letting the Christmas spirit win this time.
Created by Joe Tracz, a musical theater veteran, Dash & Lily is based on a book co-written by YA heavyweights by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, and executive produced by Nick Jonas. (Yes, spoiler alert, the JoBros have cameos.) Dash, whose weary voiceover kicks off the show, is a grump who hates the holidays and plans to avoid everyone over his winter break: his ex-girlfriend's friends, his disconnected dad, etc. But when browsing The Strand—mainly looking for errors in shelving—he comes across the little notebook Lily left there. Inside she has written out a series of dares. Among them, she, via the power of her words, convinces him to approach the microphone at the store and recite the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's "River."
Lily, who we'll soon meet, is not quite as bold as her first impressions would make her out to be. She's an optimist who is more comfortable around adults than people her own age, and, at 17, has never been kissed. So what do they have in common? They are both almost insufferably smart, just with opposing perspectives. They have a lot to learn from one another.
It figures that Cohn and Levithan's book was originally published in 2010 in the shadow of other twee romances like (500) Days of Summer and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist because, while it's ostensibly trying to cater to a Gen Z crowd and will likely win over some of that fanbase, Dash & Lily feels millennial in spirit, a direct descendant of those other high-concept love stories where the characters are (at least at first) defined by their retro interests. (What The Smiths were to (500) Days of Summer, Joni Mitchell is to Dash & Lily.)
Being a bookish teen myself, I was obsessed with this kind of signaling before I realized how ham-fisted it could be. And yet it's remembering how much I would have identified with Lily, in particular, that had me sobbing by episode seven. Francis does a downright incredible job of portraying the longing of a girl who has passively taken herself out of the romance game by branding herself as "weird." Her quirks are less Manic Pixie Dream Girl and more armor to prevent herself from getting hurt.
If Francis is the number one reason I fell for Dash & Lily, the New York locations come in close second. The series shouldn't feel as nostalgic as it does, but approaching a Christmas season where running around the city with abandon would not be prudent, it strikes a more wistful chord than it otherwise would. Dash & Lily is already fantastical—there are Hanukkah-themed punk shows in the basement of Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery and teens get access to the Morgan Library after hours—but watching it in quasi-lockdown makes it resonate like an outright fantasy.
So maybe it's the charming performances from Francis, Abrams, and a host of recognizable theater people; maybe it's the longing for a Christmas that can't be; or maybe it's just my own soft heart, suckered by literary references. Whatever it is: Dash & Lily won.
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