In Netflix’s latest rom-com, the main characters experience new things, learn how to navigate their families and fall in love during the holidays. “Dash and Lily” is a sweet treat this holiday season.
Based on the book “Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares” by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, the series is about two teenagers who come together through a journal left in New York City’s Strand Bookstore. The series follows Dash and Lily as they fall in love through back-and-forth notebook writing and out-of-the-box dares.
Each episode is about 25 minutes long, and the series has eight episodes, which makes it perfect for the viewer to binge-watch on a relaxing evening or for each night of Hanukkah. There are many aspects of the limited series that make it different from other holiday rom-com series, such as its distinctive characters, representation and portrayal of New York City.
“While it can get a bit too cutesy and twee at times, thanks to its charming leads, sophisticated writing, and cinematic storytelling, ‘Dash and Lily’ is ultimately a winner,” wrote Adam Chitwood from Collider.
Opposites attract as cynical Dash and bubbly, Christmas-loving Lily come together while writing back and forth through the notebook. Through the course of the series, they help each other get through the holidays. While Dash’s divorced parents travel, believing that their son is with the other parent, he’s actually sipping brandy in his underwear at his father’s empty apartment. Lily helps holiday-hating Dash see the magic of Christmas, daring him to go to festive neighborhoods and inspiring him to listen to holiday music. He even “listens to his mochi” as Lily suggests, and dodges his father’s backhanded questions.
Lily is disappointed to find out that her parents will be in Fiji on Christmas. She is left in the care of her older brother, Langston, who helps her hide the notebook in the Strand. She is introverted and quirky; her idea of fun is to carol with members of her community and to hand-make her own clothes. Dash helps her “expand her bubble” by exposing her to an underground Jewish club and urging her to release her bottled-up emotions.
The secondary characters are truly remarkable. Dash’s best friend, Boomer, is the tie between Dash and Lily, and plays an important role in helping the couple come together. Boomer gives the best advice to the pair, and he plays the role of comic relief.
Langston and his boyfriend, Benny, offer their own love story. They are gushy lovebirds that help Lily with her own boy problems, giving her advice and persuading her to try new things. Langston and Benny’s story shows the ups and downs of holiday relationships.
The Jonas Brothers even make an appearance in the series. On the last episode, executive producer Nick Jonas performs with his brothers. During a tense moment, Nick Jonas offers guidance to the group of teenagers, and he talks about his proposal to Priyanka Chopra.
Christmas is the main focus of the series, but an entire episode is dedicated to Hanukkah. After seeing an ad for a performance by Jewish punk band the Challah Back Boys, Dash dares Lily to go to the club so she can experience new things. The singers describe the meaning of Hanukkah and how Jewish people fought against their oppressors, which is a big theme with Lily, who is dealing with facing her middle school bully.
On the topic of LGBTQ+ representation, Troy Iwata, who plays Langston, told People, “It’s also important to show that we are more than our struggle. Langston is this snarky, hopelessly romantic big brother, who happens to be gay and that’s never questioned. It’s just presented very unapologetically.”
Midori Francis, who plays Lily, revealed to People, “It was incredible because this was the first time that I’ve really even been on a set or in any kind of production where they took the time and care to make sure that every single Asian actor on set was of Japanese descent.”
A problem in the entertainment industry is how people of Asian descent are seen as interchangeable. For example, Lana Condor, who is Vietnamese, plays a Korean American in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” It is special and rare to have a series take the time to cast Lily’s Japanese family with actors of Japanese background. It sets an example for other productions to do the same, which is important in giving accurate representation.
Portrayal of New York City
“Dash and Lily” paints a beautiful, idyllic picture of New York City. It’s filled with people, sparkling lights and myriad shops and restaurants; it makes viewers yearn for the time before the pandemic. The social gatherings, meeting of new people and exploration of the city give the viewer a sense of adventure without having to go outside themselves.
In a review in Variety, Caroline Framke criticized the show’s picturesque New York City, “Christmas in the city has rarely looked so bright, sparkly, or promising as it does in ‘Dash & Lily,’ which unabashedly shows New York at its most gleaming.”
The Strand opens and closes the series with its miles and miles of books, perfect for the two book lovers. The series promotes NYC’s famous bookstore at the perfect time, as the Strand, like many other independent businesses, is facing financial hardships. The last scene of the show takes place in the bookstore on New Year’s Eve as Dash and Lily kiss on the shelves, classic New Year’s fireworks lighting the sky behind them.
The main theme of “Dash and Lily” is falling in love regardless of the hurdles. The characters are given trials to test their love, and by the end of the series, love prevails — whether it means compromise, acceptance or deciding to not move to Fiji. The end of “Dash and Lily” brings an almost unrealistically happy ending to all of the characters and shows the magic of the holiday season. It proves Lily’s sentiment at the beginning of her story, that “Christmas is all about love.”
As Linda Holmes noted in her NPR review, “It’s as lovely and cozy as you could want, just about perfect for a weekend with a blanket over you.” If you’re looking for a sweet and humor-filled romantic comedy, “Dash and Lily” is a quick, festive series that will leave you wanting more.