It’s Christmas in New York City. The lights are magical, the caroling groups sing on every corner, and the streets are somehow not overrun by tourists. You can have the time of your life here, maybe even set off in an epic quest to find your soulmate—if only you are bold enough to follow the trail of clues they left behind.
This is Dash & Lily, Netflix’s kick-off for the holiday season. It could easily be everyone’s latest favorite binge-worthy escapist flick, but it’s more than just that. Like its protagonists, Dash & Lily reaches for a Christmas miracle of its own by being a seemingly inconceivable trifecta: a genuine rom-com, a perfect holiday story, and a wildly successful book adaptation.
Based on the novel by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, Dash & Lily introduces Dash (Austin Abrams), a cynical teen who tricks his divorced parents so he can be alone for Christmas—or, as he calls it, “the most detestable time of the year.” A bit of an obnoxious bookworm, he occupies himself by correctly re-shelving books at The Strand until he finds a red notebook. Through it, he meets Lily (Midori Francis), an optimistic but shy girl who adores novels and Christmas. Also alone for the holidays, she leaves the notebook filled with dares, asking the teen boy brave enough to follow through with them to leave her a reply, marking the start of their highly improbable but charming pen pal relationship, where they grow closer with each dare exchange, never really knowing who the stranger they are talking to is.
The premise requires a certain suspension of disbelief, much to the disappointment of bookworms everywhere. Still, the show’s greatest triumph is in not only convincing this could somehow work, but that a meaningful relationship could organically evolve from it. Most of the dares run on a trope of “opposites attract,” like with their extremely sweet versus extremely salty food challenges. However, this set-up works for more than just sending them to quirky, adorkable trips. Mid-season’s “Sofia & Edgar” episode is phenomenal in revealing this potential. Lily sends Dash to make mochis to learn how to look for solutions to terrible situations, and he dares her to wreck some crafts so she can shout at the rain when she can’t find the rainbows. As cliché as their metaphors might be, they are better off for them: Dash finally makes peace with his dad, and Lily eventually confronts her middle-school fear of being a weird kid.
They grow not only closer but as people. Dash is still as snarky as ever, but he is less burdened by his own hopelessness. Lily is still a bundle of joy, but she admits that she doesn’t always feel that way. They evolve and learn and take risks because they find, in each other, a kindred spirit. The anonymity of the red notebook lets them be honest with another person, believing that someone will genuinely listen and care. You cheer for them to end up together not because the plot tells you to, but because nobody else understands them like the other.
It would be a disservice not to mention that it’s a great holiday watch as well. Aesthetically-speaking, Dash & Lily screams Christmas. The soundtrack alone is perfect for anyone who starts building holiday Spotify playlists in early November, including classics like “Last Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Fairytale of New York.” Lily’s handmade outfits feature a wide range of ugly sweaters. The characters hit every go-to Christmas spot in New York City, as well as some artsy spots (the Hanukkah punk rock concert is both random and unforgettable). The production really embraces the holiday, and it shows. For any lover of the season, Dash & Lily is a dream.
What distinguishes it from any other forgettable Christmas flick, though, is in its twist of the seasonal miracle. Luck and faith only get Dash and Lily so far. More often than not, they need to solve their own problems or ask for the help of someone else. Magic, for Dash & Lily, is something that people make rather than something that falls out of the sky.
It’s cheesy, but it’s true to its source material. Levithan’s and Cohn’s novel is a cozy, wholesome tale of two teens stepping out of their bubble, learning from each other, and finding love in a bookshelf. For years, it was my comfort book, conveniently found in the YA section of my school’s library. It’s the kind of easy novel that makes you believe again in happy endings long after you’ve given up on fairy tales.
Dash & Lily owns up to that by being an unapologetically sweet love story. Hopeless romantics will love it to death, and cynical minds will probably tear up the impractical logistics of the notebook apart. That’s OK. The show isn’t there for realism. It’s just meant to make you feel a little bit better. In a year where the Christmas spirit feels so hard to come by, Dash & Lily is a much-needed miracle.