We are finally in the penultimate month of the longest year in recorded history. While so many things about 2020 have been challenging and unpredictable, the annual rollout of TV holiday specials is now in full swing, and Netflix won’t be left out of the Christmas and holiday cheer. Part of the streaming service’s holiday tidings is Dash & Lily, a charming series faithfully adapted from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s (the same pair responsible for Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) best-selling young adult novel Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares.
The charming series stars Austin Abrams, who the show’s intended young audience will recognize from Euphoria and Amazon’s Chemical Hearts (and moms will remember as young Kate’s abusive boyfriend on This Is Us), as Dash, a precocious prep school kid already soured on the spirit of Christmas before he turns 18. His plans for a peaceful, if solemn, Christmas get turned upside down when he finds a red Moleskin notebook in the Salinger section of New York’s iconic The Strand bookstore. The mysterious notebook sends him on a scavenger hunt that inevitably puts him on a crash course to falling in love with the notebook’s owner, Lily (newcomer Midori Francis).
As the two trade the notebook back in forth in a rather unconventional way of getting to know each other, hijinks ensue, exes return at the most inopportune moment, friends and well-meaning gay brothers intervene, the Jonas Brothers make an appearance (thanks to executive producer Nick Jonas), but most importantly, Dash and Lily are inspired to become the best and truest versions of themselves in order to impress the person they’ve fallen for. All of this is set against the backdrop of a holiday decorated Lower East Side, reminding everyone that New York is one of the most magical places on Earth, especially at Christmas.
While Abrams is delightful as the Grinch-turned-believer Dash (an impressive turn for those most familiar with his darker-themed work), it’s Francis that really packs the charming punch. Lily’s passion for Christmas and the magic of the season is not only palpable and contagious, but Francis also nails Lily’s off-center weirdness without dabbling in the manic pixie dream girl trope. These are two kids that feel outside of their particular social groups for extremely different reasons and it’s heartwarming to watch them navigate an unconventional relationship and figure out why their separate outsiderness also makes them perfect for each other.
Of course, there’s a lot of charming and romantic holiday fare out there for you to binge, even just on Netflix. So why invest the time in this cute series? Even though Dash & Lily was filmed pre-pandemic and exists in a COVID-free alternate universe, the show taps into a loneliness being felt this holiday season more universally than ever before. No one in the show is wearing masks while they shop for gifts, allowing you to escape the current stressful reality of the world right now, but the reason Lily is so gung-ho about this Christmas in particular is because she feels abandoned by her family at her favorite time of the year. And Dash is more willing than normal to accept Lily’s festive dares because he’s also feeling adrift with both of his parents leaving town for the holidays.
With COVID cases on the rise and many people stuck socially distanced from their families or unable to travel to see loved ones, the isolation and longing that Dash and Lily feel as they trade this notebook is going to strike a chord with so many people this year. The show doesn’t rub COVID in your face, but it does seem to understand the struggle and sadness surrounding the holidays for so many this year. Dash & Lily gets it in a way that the traditional fluffy holiday content might not.
Dash & Lily is now streaming on Netflix.