Created by Joe Tracz
Based on the Novel by Rachel Cohn & David Levitan
Release Date: November 10th 2020
If you’re of a cynical mindset, the charms of Dash & Lily might prove very easy to resist. There is an argument to be made that this is perhaps the most Christmassy television series that Netflix has ever made. That it also happens to be a YA romantic comedy might just turn the most jaded, cynical audience member away permanently.
As for me, well I adored it.
Set in New York, it gently and lovingly evokes a wintry feel that New York seems to capture so well on screen. Characters wear thick coats, scarves, and woolly hats, while central female character Lily (Midori Francis) is a member of a group of Christmas carollers.
The male lead, Dash (Austin Abrams), is cynical, depressed over a past break-up and hates the Christmas season. Do you see where it’s going? Of course, but it’s how it gets to where’s it’s going that makes Dash & Lily such a joy to watch.
It takes a lot to do a romantic comedy in which the two central leads are not together for the majority of the running time but which you still have to build considerable chemistry between them so that the sparks will fly when they inevitably find their way to each other in the final act, or in this case final three episodes.
Nora Ephron was the master of writing and directing this type of thing, most famously with Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail.
Based on Rachel Cohn and David Levitan’s novel Book of Dares, communication and the written word are as much the catalyst for love here as first kisses and longing looks, although those still play a pivotal role in proceedings too.
The series takes great joy in communication through writing, and absolutely revels in books for a lot of its screen time. Famous New York bookstore The Strand is the setting that kickstarts much of the plot and is where Dash’s discovers the red notebook that the characters communicate through with their observations and frequently funny dares for each other, and it’s also the destination for where the story will conclude for its feel good conclusion.
A pen-pal relationship develops, with the Big Apple as their playground where they can pass the notebook in question around. Francis and Abrams only share a small amount of screen time with each other, but their performances are wonderful. There is the threat that either one of them could fall into the realm of cliché or stereotype, but everything is kept on the right side of believable.
In lesser hands, Lily might have simply been the cliched Manic Pixie Dream girl with nothing but quirks to her character, while Dash could have just fallen into the realms of disenfranchised young privileged male who mopes about past relationships while being overtly cynical, and yet the performances of Midori Francis and Austin Abrams and much of the way they are written never allow the cliché to overtake believability, and instead they are presented with more complications than that.
In other hands it might have overplayed the twee and cute aspects. This being based on a YA novel means that there is a dollop of angst to go along with a lot of the drama, not least childhood bullies who return at the worst possible time, previous relationships rearing their head when they are super inconvenient, and parents and family members who might prove obstacles to any possible future romance.
In other words, it’s perfectly brilliant teen romantic fare. With the earlier episodes directed by Brad Silberling whose previous credits included 1995’s Casper, City of Angels and the first screen adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, there is a touch of near fantasy to some of the proceedings. Like the director’s depiction of Los Angeles in his remake of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, this is more of fairy-tale version of a city which plays as the background to the comedy, romance, and bittersweet angst.
Snow is constantly falling from the sky, the Christmas lights shine brightly on the buildings, characters meet up at Jonas Brothers concerts, and there is a degree of quirk to go with some of the characters. Just when you’re getting use to that, realism does sink in and while a happy ending is all but assured, with the final episode being a lovely warm hearted glow of a hug that goes down well during these more wintry months, the series isn’t afraid to pile on some angsty drama to get us there.
It’s not the most realistic of shows for sure, but then again who wants gritty realism in the run up to the holidays. This is a great slice of YA Christmas fuelled romance with a gifted young cast, an icing on the cake cameo from executive producer Nick Jonas, and in Midori Francis and Austin Abrams, a wonderful pair of actors that might just give a generation of teens a romantic comedy pairing to cherish.