As a fresh take on the holiday rom-com genre, “Dash & Lily” shines bright with its intriguing plot and spectacular blend of heartfelt and comedic moments.
On the surface, the series may sound like your quintessential Christmas romantic comedy, with two quirky protagonists drawn together by a series of serendipitous encounters set before the backdrop of New York City. The eight-episode first season of the Netflix series surprises the audience with its exploration of Dash and Lily’s individual coming-of-age stories, however, delving into themes of identity, belonging and acceptance.
The series follows two New York teenagers, Dash and Lily, who are both set to be lonely on Christmas — that is, until Dash finds a red notebook nestled in one of the shelves of his favorite bookstore. Curious, he opens the book to find a scavenger-hunt-style series of dares written by a mysterious stranger. Dash completes the set of dares and, impressed by the mystery person’s humor and interests, decides to respond with tasks of his own. He leaves the notebook for her to find, facilitating correspondence that brings them closer through shared adventures. In the process, they closely bond and learn a great deal about themselves and each other.
The game depends heavily on Dash and Lily’s anonymity, meaning social media stalking is entirely off limits. The whimsical, technology-free development of their friendship is quite wholesome to watch, but the same cannot be said of the series as a whole. Despite its cheerful Christmas-y setting, as a series, “Dash & Lily” still deals with deeper themes.
One of the show’s greatest strengths is its self-awareness and ability to deconstruct romantic comedy tropes. Dash’s ex-girlfriend, Sofia, often warns him to distinguish between the version of Lily he creates in his head and the real person. Despite her warnings, neither Dash nor Lily can avoid making this mistake. Within one in-person encounter, their story shifts from a giddy teenage romance to a heartbreaking lesson in managing expectations. It is a surprising twist for a genre so often saturated with grand gestures and happy endings, but it is also the shift that turns the show from pleasant background noise to a binge-worthy series.
There are some concerning aspects about the show, such as its decision to heavily feature underage drinking. At times, drinking is used for laughs, as Dash lounges in his father’s abandoned apartment, clad in a beige robe, drinking the bourbon his father specifically asked him not to touch. Other times it is extremely serious, as Lily drowns her heartbreak in alcohol at a bar because of a misunderstanding about Dash’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend.
The underage drinking itself is not unrealistic. The way it is handled, however, particularly in Lily’s case, is troubling. Lily attends a bar with her Christmas-caroling troupe that consists entirely of adults except for herself. The series makes a point to explain why Lily only has adult friends: She feels excluded by people her age, who don’t take well to her free-spirited, enthusiastic nature. Yet, her adult friends act irresponsibly, watching her spiral into a session of day-drinking that later proves to be destructive. Things only come to an end after Dash finds her in the bar and takes her home. This binge drinking is too dangerous of an activity for the writers not to actively condemn, and the creators of the show have a responsibility to make sure viewers do not turn to alcohol in a time of crisis.
Nevertheless, the series remains enjoyable through its storytelling as a whole, which exceeds expectations for a romantic comedy. Dash and Lily’s individual character arcs are treated with care, as Dash learns to navigate a contentious relationship with his father, while Lily learns to accept herself and stand up to the peers who once made her feel small.
Even in its somber moments, “Dash & Lily” manages to exude holiday spirit, as the cheerful atmosphere of a heavily decorated New York City radiates through the screen, making it the perfect show to kick off the holiday season.
Early in the second episode of the series, we hear Lily say, “New York stories are the best,” and “Dash & Lily” makes it hard to say she’s wrong. While the show has not yet been renewed for a second season, eager fans can check out the three-book series, “Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares,” that inspired the show.