Analysing Netflix’s Dash and Lily

Dash and Lily is all about the whirlwind romance one can feel in New York City during Christmas time, which is so intense and magical that even someone who detests this festival finds joy in it. Based on the bestselling novel Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, the show is about two people— Dash and Lily, and how the two connect through a little red notebook. 

Considering that there is an abundance of Christmas themed movies and TV shows that already exist in this world, does this Netflix “original” provide any originality and relief in this overfed genre? 

Meet the Characters

Dash played by actor Austin Abrams, is a cynical, lonely guy who hates all things Christmas and spends all his time around books. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that the only thing in common between him and Christmas-loving Lily, played by Midori Francis, is their love of books. Lily, who is all positivity and sunshine (practically a Christmas elf hiding in the body of a teen girl), and Dash’s polar opposite, finds herself alone on Christmas (her worst nightmare). After looking at her brother Langston’s blooming relationship she finds herself sadder at the thought of being single. On Langston’s idea, she leaves a red notebook at her favourite bookstore, The Strand, hoping to find a like-minded teen, who happens to be Dash, to pick up. The lonely, angsty teen Dash is of course intrigued by the cover that reads “Do you Dare?” and decides to read it.  


Having completed Lily’s first dare, Dash decides to write to her in the notebook, and thus begins an exchange of dares between the two, introducing each other to their favourite foods and favourite places in the city. They also make a ground rule to only communicate via this red notebook with no use of technology whatsoever. 

The rest of the show follows how the two will experience the magic of Christmas in the city, especially Dash who would otherwise hide away from this sort of thing, and happily spend his time watching French films in his Dad’s lavish apartment. They both force each other to get out of their comfort zones. For instance, we see Lily force Dash to do some of the most christmassy things one can imagine like heading into Macy’s amidst the holiday crowd, or waiting for Christmas lights to read the word “believe” which makes an infatuated Dash smile. We also see Dash assuring a shell-bound Lily that she can be herself in a room full of people. 


All seems to be going well, and the time for the two to meet in real is close. Their fantasy-filled love story however, does not go as planned.

When the two coincidentally meet at a party, they are both with different people—Dash with his ex girlfriend Sofia who is perfect in every way and wildly intimidating for Lily, and Lily with her middle school bully-and-crush Edgar, who is actually now interested in her.


Unaware of each other’s identities, they meet as strangers and get along well. This meeting is brought to a sad stop when Dash leaves the party with his ex and spends the night with her at the Morgan Library. Even though nothing happens between the two and Dash decides that he doesn’t want to get back with her, he oversleeps and is unable to drop off the notebook at Lily’s aunt’s place.

Figuring out Dash’s name, and failing to receive the notebook, Lily feels betrayed by him for leaving the party with his ex. She is sad, 17, and drinking with her carol singing group of adults in a bar where she drunk texts Edgar to come and kiss her. Edgar takes her up on this offer and kisses her, only for a heartbroken Dash to witness this. Now they have met each other, and realised that they both had a very unreal idea in their heads about the other person. 

When Lily learns that her family is moving to Fiji, her notebook-relationship seems irrelevant and she seems to want to have a fresh start, especially after grandfather expresses how disappointed he is at her recent behaviour. Unsurprisingly, not all hope is lost because Dash realises he is in fact in love with Lily and cannot let her leave the city. He asks his best friend Boomer, who is currently disillusioned by their friendship, to help him find Lily. Boomer quickly forgives Dash because he comes to a Jonas Brothers’s concert for him, which is a very big thing for Dash to have done. Here, we also see a cameo by Nick Jonas who advises Dash to go meet her as himself and not as someone trying to rescue her. 

Meanwhile Lily’s family is all packed and on their way to the airport when her brother sends her a photo of the last message Dash has left for Lily, confessing his feelings for her and inviting her to The Strand, where their love story began. Elated Lily leaves her cab with her confused parents behind and rushes to meet Dash. 

A Merry Ending

It’s no surprise that in this feel-good show, things ends up well for Dash and Lily who share their first kiss locked in The Strand. We see Lily’s grandfather amending his relationship with his sister, her aunt. We also see Lily hammering some sense into her brother Langston by telling him to not break up with his boyfriend over a short period of being apart. The show doesn’t forget Boomer who we see hanging out with Sofia, holding hands outside a movie theatre. And to top it all off, thanks to her aunt, her grandfather gives her permission to stay in New York, which means she can start this budding new relationship with the guy of her dreams, Dash, in the city they both love.  


Characters’ Analysis

The quirky, expressive Lily who is bullied by her peers and feels like she doesn’t fit in, is rarely shown as the protagonist and usually only as “the best friend” to a pretty main character. What is also interesting is that her character is played by an Asian actress instead of yet another white girl. 

While Dash exudes this overwritten white boy who-is-rich-but-couldn’t-care-for-it-because-his-actual-interests-lie-in-books energy, he is still an alternative to jocks getting all the pretty girls. He is a nerd with a decent social circle, never excluded from social events even though he couldn’t care for them, and has a pretty ex-girlfriend even though she speaks for him at parties. He, like most Netflix nerds, is happy hanging out with his only close friend Boomer, who again like most teen shows, has dedicated his life to helping his best friend, the main character, find the love of his life. Throwing in a scene where he and Sofia hold hands feels forced, and also contradicts his views on Sofia. 

The Setting

Set in New York (surprise surprise), every scene ensures you didn’t forget that the holidays are its central theme. Even a side character is a personified Christmas element, like Lily’s Uncle Sal in a Santa costume at Macy’s reluctantly helps Dash learn her name. 

Significance of the Red Notebook

The show definitely provides an alternative reality to teenage lives by showing two high schoolers choosing to interact by writing in a notebook. The daring exchange between the two for most part of the show is fun to follow, and keeps you waiting for their actual, in-person meeting.

This is ideal for those wanting to escape into a fantasy. It also drifts away from some of Disney’s sickeningly sweet, Christmas-themed movies that are all things magical. Dash and Lily acknowledges the realities of life, the misunderstandings, and the heartaches one can feel in relationships with real people with real flaws.

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