Review: ‘Dash & Lily’ is super sweet, but not to all of its characters


Kelly Chan

Ornaments adorn a Christmas tree.

Edith Olmsted, news correspondent

“Dash & Lily” is one of the newest additions to the Rolodex of Netflix Christmas content. The series follows two teens, the persnickety pessimist Dash (Austin Abrams) who comes across a notebook containing a series of clues and challenges left by the cheery romantic Lily (Midori Francis). The two begin a pen-pal friendship of sorts and take turns exchanging the notebook, full of dares and heartfelt confessions, as Lily earnestly attempts to persuade Dash to learn to love the holiday season, and maybe fall for her as well.

A romantic comedy in the format of a 10 episode series is pretty much always going to be brilliant. It allows the characters room to be deeply understood by each other and the audience. It is similar to the early seasons of “The Mindy Project,” another rom-com television series, which was able to craft satisfying arcs and multifaceted characters. The length prevents Dash from seeming like a one-dimensional loner, and Lily from crossing the line into manic pixie dream girl territory. Dash’s withdrawal is well explored and Lily’s quirks are given explanation. Both Lily and Dash make sense as people.

Another success of the show is that the writers create a vivid world for the two of them to explore. The New York City the show creates has all of the charm and magic of the holiday rom-coms which have preceded it; sequences at landmarks like Macy’s and the Strand are not missing here. This version of New York, however, has an added dose of teenage fantasy. The city isn’t populated by expensive clubs and shopping sprees, but with Klezmer-punk shows and poetry slams. These scenes carve an identity for this version of NYC that set it apart from other holiday programming.

Abrams gives a great performance that only adds to the depth of his character, who for a surly book-loving teenager is surprisingly redeemable. He is a strong romantic lead, similar to Hugh Grant in “About A Boy,” or “Notting Hill” with the way he would barely open his mouth when he talked. Francis is also stupendous and never grates on the nerves of the audience. She imbues Lily with a sympathetic weariness which elevates the character’s rosy outlook. 

While the leads are strong, the chemistry they have doesn’t always land. It is not that important since the two share very little screen time together, but there is something off about the moments when they do. An important question throughout the show is whether the two will actually get along when they meet. Are they the person in each others’ head? In that way, their uncertain chemistry that never really finds its moment might make sense.

Where this show suffers, is that it never allows the focus to sit with the other characters. Scenes with Lily’s brother Langston (Troy Iwata), as well as with Dash’s friend Boomer (Dante Brown) are some of the funniest in the show. Both had storylines that would have expanded the show’s lovely universe if given the chance, but instead, these characters mostly served as counsel to its leads.

This leads to the biggest problem in “Dash & Lily”: the lack of care taken with its female characters. Lily is not a “normal” teenage girl, and the show repeatedly harps on how she has no friends her age. There are three separate shots of Lily observing teenage girls laughing from a distance. The show does not present a judgment on Lily, who looks at them with a mixture of longing and alienation, but a judgment on the girls. It is their fault for not appreciating her dorkiness, and not her inability to communicate with them that creates the rift. Lily is never forced to confront her feelings about other girls her age, and therefore the audience is similarly alienated from them. 

The only redeeming moment from a “typical” teenage girl is from Sofia (Keana Marie), Dash’s stunning and wealthy ex-girlfriend. She is presented to Lily, and to the audience as very controlling and somewhat superficial. Although she does exhibit character growth, shifting from trying to win Dash away from Lily, to cheering him on as his friend, she is never redeemed to Lily. There is so much more potential for Lily’s emotional growth; I would have liked to see her face some consequences for the way that she judges Sofia and have the two eventually become friends. It would have been satisfying for Sofia’s character arc to chip away at her internalized misogyny, but she never sees any part of Sofia’s redemption. Because of this, Lily is left without a meaningful character arc in this respect. The way she views the women at the end of the show is the same as it was at the beginning.

Overall, the show is mushy and sweet, and a fun diversion from the tension of the outside world. But if you’re looking for a story that features female empowerment and friendships, you may be disappointed.