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As somewhat of a self-diagnosed scrooge, I know that holidays, and especially holiday media, aren’t for everyone: Personally, I would be content never seeing another Hallmark Christmas movie or hearing another Mariah Carey song again. However, there is one show that can get me at least a little bit in the spirit, and that is Netflix’s 2020 holiday rom-com, “Dash & Lily.”

Lily (Midori Francis, “The Sex Lives of College Girls”) is a Christmas lover keen on keeping the city in good spirits and spreading holiday cheer. Dash (Austin Abrams, “Do Revenge”) is an Upper East Side cynic who is the epitome of a pessimistic holiday-hater. Lily, ever the creative optimist, sets up a scavenger hunt in hopes of finding her perfect special someone. She leaves a small red notebook on the shelves of her local bookshop, convinced that whoever takes it will have the same curiosity and positivity that she does. As a book and bookshop lover, I’ll admit, her plan is quite cute and I can support her goals, even if her positivity can be a little overbearing at times.

As the title of the show would imply, the other main character, Dash, comes into Lily’s life after discovering the notebook she left in the bookstore. With the security of anonymity, Dash and Lily begin to grow a friendship that eventually evolves into something more over the course of a few short days. Even though Dash was the polar opposite of what Lily thought she was looking for, he still succumbed to the Christmas spirit due to her own excitement about the season. Through her scavenger hunt, Lily guides Dash through the whimsical Christmas experience he was so against, helping to melt his icy, cold, holiday-hating heart. 

Part of the show’s magic is undoubtedly the setting. According to popular movies and TV, there’s nothing like winter in New York City, which is where “Dash & Lily” takes place. The sparking lights, the towering Christmas trees, the ice skating rinks, the snow fluttering down: Truly, it is beautiful. Perhaps the location is a little bit overdone, but it certainly evokes that nostalgic, magical holiday feeling better than anywhere else.

It also doesn’t hurt that Shawn Levy, YA extraordinaire and director of successful shows such as “Stranger Things” and “Shadow and Bone,” was an executive producer on the show. I don’t know much about the behind the scenes of creating a show, but Shawn Levy seems to have the perfect touch, or at least one that many people enjoy seeing play out on screen. In an interview with Decider, Levy says he felt particularly drawn to “Dash & Lily” because of how reminiscent it was of many memorable holiday movies and that he thought the show would be a good fit, remarking, “When we read ‘Dash & Lily,’ it felt like: ‘Here is a chance to do a feel-good, New York-set, holiday rom-com with very specific characters.’ And characters I haven’t seen in other romantic comedies, which made it super interesting.” Specifically on producing teen TV shows, Levy noted in an interview with Collider that he often has one-on-ones with actors before beginning such projects, finding “that kind of pep talk tends to calm nerves, bolster confidence and give performers the focus they need to do their best work regardless of where you shoot, regardless of the pressure. Just letting someone own their power and feel really confident in their abilities, that’s the key.”

“Dash & Lily” does holidays differently and offers something for everyone. The crafty, warm and cozy Christmas lovers can see themselves in Lily’s excitement and positivity. Those more apprehensive toward the festivities can see themselves in Dash and similarly become susceptible to the charms of the season. Instead of overusing stale, predictable romantic plots (*cough**cough* Hallmark), “Dash & Lily” introduces a unique format where the two main characters don’t properly meet in person until the penultimate episode of the season. Up until this point, all of their interactions were via notebook and mainly in the form of leaving dares for each other to help push them out of their comfort zones. Sharing vulnerabilities with each other, even in written form, allowed for a genuine relationship to form between Dash and Lily, causing viewers to root them on despite their never meeting. Dash and Lily even unknowingly crossed paths several times, including on the night they began their notebook shenanigans — but since they hadn’t met in real life, they were oblivious. The constant build-up of near interactions, in addition to the deep bond blossoming between the two protagonists, made for a fun and unique depiction of a romantic relationship, setting “Dash & Lily” apart from other holiday broadcasts. Unfortunately, “Dash & Lily” was never green-lit for a second season, something many fans are still upset about even two years later as they begin scheduling their December rewatches.

“Dash and Lily”’s integration of multifaceted characters and conflicts, as well as a traditionally magical setting, are sure to set you in the holiday mood, no matter how you feel about the holidays.

Daily Arts Writer Jenna Jaehnig can be reached at jjaehnig@umich.edu.