[Review] Netflix’s ‘DASH & LILY’ is ‘YOU’VE GOT MAIL’ for bookworm millennials

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

DASH & LILY

TV-14, about 202 minutes (across 8 episodes)
Creator: Joe Tracz
Directors: Brad Silberling, Pamela Romanowsky, and Fred Savage
Cast: Austin Abrams, Midori Francis, Dante Brown, Troy Iwata, James Saito, Leah Kreitz, Keana Maria, Glenn McCuen, Agneeta Thacker, and Jodi Long

Writing is tough. The physical act, I mean. Not the social media shorthand with abbreviations, hashtags, and emojis. Taking the time to collect one’s thoughts, string words together, and pray to God that your sentences and paragraphs are coherent can be an all-consuming effort.

Finding love, actually, is also tough.

Enjoyment of both offers a shared experience. A romantic note from a secret admirer, for instance.

So, picture this scenario: A teenage girl writes a coded message in a red notebook and plants it in a bookstore. One day, a teenage boy finds the book, and his curiosity is piqued. They are a mystery to one another but share an appreciation of books and this particular store.

Rom-com 101 has taught us the art of the meet-cute and the rules of making serendipity a reality. Netflix’s DASH & LILY changes the rules in having our characters work for it. If it’s meant to be, then getting there shouldn’t be a breeze.

Based on the young adult books by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan — the latter of whom authored NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, which was made into an underseen romance starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings — this eight-part series is like Nora Ephron’s YOU’VE GOT MAIL, only the romance isn’t shared over the world wide web but through a red notebook that makes its way around New York City.

While Hallmark Channel’s yearly “Countdown to Christmas” line-up turns up the season’s bright luminescence to 11 (seriously, it must be a prerequisite that the word Christmas appear in the title of every movie on the schedule), Netflix dials it down, offering a slight yuletide reprieve to same old holiday romances.

Dash (Austin Abrams) is clearly not a fan of musician Andy Williams. Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. Not this year, and definitely not in the Big Apple. He’s a killjoy and rolls his eyes at those carolers trying to force-feed passersby with holiday cheer. It’s supposed to be a season of giving, but when the gift of romance doesn’t work out, he’s ready to be George Michael and go solo. Dash lost his heart once. Never again.

Lily’s (Midori Francis) heart is intact. She’s never been in love, never been kissed even. But the lovelorn lass is holiday obsessed. Hmm, a Christmas cynic and a Christmas cheerleader. The opposites-attract bell rings so much in romantic comedies that you end up with an entire squadron of angels earning its wings.

The difference with DASH & LILY is how our characters develop and change without saying a word or exchanging texts with one another. As stated in the beginning: writing is hard. The reticence to share your feelings and dreams in a notebook, then hope another will come across and share their own desires is the stuff of fantasy. Then again, Christmas is the time of miracles and playing reindeer games.

The first two episodes from director Brad Silberling (CITY OF ANGELS) are parallel stories that initiate the set-up and scavenger hunt from Dash and Lily’s perspectives. For the remaining six episodes (including four helmed by Fred Savage, who once turned his nose at the idea of a “kissing book” in THE PRINCESS BRIDE), the story flips back and forth as the two unravel clues, take chances, and make mistakes along the way before finding that fairy tale ending.

Austin Abrams and Midori Francis are very appealing as Dash and Lily, as is Dash’s best friend, a fellow millennial ironically named Boomer (Dante Brown). Show creator Joe Tracz is to be commended in making a YA whirlwind holiday romance that isn’t too cloying for adults. A special bonus is having a broad soundtrack with the likes of Chuck Berry, The Waitresses, and Wham! (Whamageddon players, you’ve been warned.)

DASH & LILY is the Netflix and Chill equivalent to a page-turner. It’s so gosh-darn delightful you can’t help but fall in love with it.

Grade: B

DASH & LILY is now available to stream on Netflix.

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