Published Dec 10, 2020With the sheer volume of holiday specials coming out each year, it's difficult to find something that doesn't follow the formulaic holiday special playbook. Many holiday romantic comedies are cheesy, predictable, and leave audiences feeling bored halfway through. This is probably why Netflix's new limited series, Dash & Lily, feels so refreshing: it's charming, lively, and keeps views glued to the characters' every move.
Dash (Austin Abrams) is a 17-year-old who is far too young to be a jaded cynic, yet he hates Christmas. Not just the one day — he also hates the holiday cheer, carolling troupes, and young love. His parents don't get along, but, on the bright side, at least they're both travelling and each think he's spending time with the other, so he gets to eat pizza and watch French horror films in his dad's swanky apartment. But there's one thing he doesn't hate: books.
He steps into the Strand — one of New York City's most iconic bookshops — and that's where this eight-episode story begins. He finds a red notebook belonging to a mystery girl who we find out is Lily (Midori Francis).
Lily is the embodiment of Christmas cheer. She's bubbly, energetic, and wears a lot of red. She loves baking holiday treats, decorating her family's apartment, and singing in the carolling troupe Dash detests. She's doesn't really have any friends her own age and has never been kissed.
This is where the red notebook comes in.
Lily — or really, her brother Langston (Troy Iwata) and his boyfriend Benny (Diego Guevara) — uses the notebook as part of a scavenger hunt to help her find a nice boy who loves reading for fun. Dash fills out the first few clues, which involve heavy books on pianos, trashy YA fiction, and a book about The Joy of Gay Sex.
Dash and Lily spend the next two weeks leading up to Christmas running around Manhattan, leaving the notebook with friends, family, and random customer service employees. They trade dares and secrets in writing, and slowly end up falling in love with each other, save for a few hurdles along the way.
The writers of Dash & Lily did good on staying away from a number of classic YA tropes. There's no "boy meets girl; boy and girl are forced into conflict that brings them together; boy and girl fall in love and kiss" storyline. Dash and Lily don't meet in person until episode six and only have a few scenes together in the remaining two episodes. Langston isn't an obligatory gay character whose only job is to say predictable one-liners; he has issues of his own and he's integral to the main characters' love story.
Dash & Lily should be applauded for bringing such strong Asian representation to its story. Few, if any, holiday specials have featured a Japanese-American main character, let alone a whole Japanese-American family. The traditional Otoshidama (money envelope) ceremony in episode eight made me smile. As an Asian person, I could relate to Lily's strict, protective grandpa.
Perhaps inevitably, Dash & Lily gets bogged down by a few Christmas rom-com tropes. Let's start with Dash's ex-girlfriend who so conveniently pops back into the picture. She broke his heart last Christmas and is back this holiday season wanting to get back together. For Lily, her middle school bully who called her "weird" with the worst intentions now likes her weirdness — with seemingly the best intentions. Dash and Lily go to a holiday party with their respective dates, and when they leave, things get rough. Is it really that difficult to write a charming YA show with a less eye-rolling conflict involving exes?
While this does make the show a smidge less fantastic, Dash & Lily is still one of the most original holiday specials out there. Dash's cynicism softens slightly every episode, and Lily is childlike and naïve without being grating.
The best thing about Dash & Lily is not that it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside — it's the wish fulfillment of taking an adventure through New York City at the most wonderful time of the year. (Netflix)