Series Review: Dash & Lily
Dash & Lily
Series Created by Joe Tracz
21 Laps Entertainment
Streaming on Netflix: 11.10
I just reviewed a holiday-themed romantic comedy from Netflix, so yes, there is a certain feeling of “didn’t we just do this?” going into this review of the eight-episode, limited-run series Dash & Lily, which is based on the first in a popular series of YA novels by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. But the substance of the two reviews is quite different, because Dash & Lily is like the Dr. Sam Beckett of the ’90s TV classic Quantum Leap, putting right everything that Holidate made wrong.
Dash & Lily is a teen tale about cynical Dash (Austin Abrams, Chemical Hearts) and optimistic Lily (Midori Francis, Ocean’s 8, Good Boys), whose paths intersect when Dash, who is spending the holidays alone in New York City as both of his divorced parents are out of town, finds a mysterious notebook on a shelf at his favorite bookstore. The notebook belongs to a mystery girl who has packed it with clues and a dare. In spite of himself, the mopey Dash, who is still smarting from a recent breakup, completes the clues and leaves a message for the girl who created the notebook.
In Episode 2, we rewind and meet Lily, a cheerful odd duck who is heartbroken because it’s her favorite time of year and her parents are suddenly flying off to Fiji for Christmas. Her older brother Langston (Troy Iwata) hates to see Lily unhappy, and also wants to get her out of the apartment so he can be alone with his boyfriend. So he comes up with the idea of the notebook, hoping to prod Lily out of her shell. Though they don’t know each other’s identities, Dash and Lilly trade dares, dreams and desires as they pass the notebook back and forth at locations all across New York City, finding that they have more in common with each other than they would have expected.
Dash & Lilly is a sweet, endearing and funny romcom that is filled with Christmas cheer. The shifts in point of view from episode to episode make for a fresh and lively story that is—perhaps—more engaging than it has any right to be. The characters are well drawn and easy to love, with both Abrams and Francis brimming over with charisma without being cutesy. Abrams really knows how to play the natural high that comes with falling in love while keeping it low key and never mugging, and he’s got a star quality that feels genuinely new and unlike anyone else. Francis is honestly adorable, though she may be out-cuted by Iwata’s Langston and Diego Guevara as his boyfriend, Benny. But Keana Marie (Huge in France) as Sofia, the ex-girlfriend Dash has been pining for, may make the strongest impression. She’s a major discovery with an elegant presence that I suspect is about to make her a hot commodity in Hollywood.
Directing duties for the series are split between Brad Silberling (Casper, A Series of Unfortunate Events), who also serves as an executive producer, Pamela Romanowsky (The Adderall Diaries) and Fred Savage, who learned the art of romantic storytelling as a kid when his Grandpa, played by Peter Falk, read fairy tales to him. Silberling is the most polished of the three, but they all do excellent work, keeping things moving briskly and letting the characters guide the story along. The show moves at such a brisk and steady pace and was so much more fun than I expected—in all sincerity, I was kind of sad to reach the end.
Dash & Lily brought back the feel of the lighthearted, While You Were Sleeping or Sleepless in Seattle style romcoms I loved as a teen. It’s so satisfying as a one-shot, episodic Christmas movie told in half hour chapters that my initial thought was to hope that they don’t ruin it with more seasons that will likely only decline in quality and fail to recapture the fun of the premise. But then I learned that the book was part of a series, all set at Christmas, I’m going to assume there’s a good chance of future seasons. I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that is tempted to order the second book, but chances are that I’ll just wait and see whether Netflix opts in on a second season. I still think it’s likely better left ending here, but I can think of a lot worse ways to spend next Christmas than spending some more time celebrating the season with these characters. –Patrick Gibbs