If the fates won’t allow us all to be together this Christmas, at least we get a dose of holiday cheer from Netflix with an eight-episode romantic comedy adaptation of Rachel Cohn and David Levithan’s bestseller “Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares.” Starring captivating leads in subtle Austin Abrams and sparkly Midori Frances, Dash and Lily is far from the grim melodrama that has plagued young adult fiction in recent years. Perhaps that’s unsurprising coming from 21 Laps Entertainment where executive producers Shawn Levy and Josh Barry cultivate warm, inviting worlds we never want to leave – even if they’re upside down.
Here, they team with showrunner Joe Tracz and singer Nick Jonas to create a joyful binge-watch, one that follows two teenagers around a bustling, pre-pandemic New York City. It’s that stunning backdrop that reminds us of the seemingly simple things we took for granted not so long ago – busy bookstores, crowded markets and chance encounters with strangers. In Nora Ephron-style fashion, joyful Lily and jaded Dash “meet” before they “meet” through a red notebook full of dares on a bookshelf of The Strand. She wants him to sing in public, he wants her to go clubbing – what may sound like superficial fodder for tweens and teenyboppers is actually reminiscent of WB days of old. It has depth to it – a real message about finding people who understand you and understanding yourself.
As Dash, Lily and friends venture in and out of the city’s most aesthetically appealing settings like Grand Central Terminal, Bethesda Fountain and Washington Square Park (which Director of Photography Eric Treml captures beautifully), the story holds its own with enough equal amounts of charm and suspense to keep you watching. As they enjoy getting to know each other, we do, too.
We learn their innermost thoughts through narration and who better to direct an internal monologue than Fred Savage? The answer is nobody. Nobody is better. His long career in acting and directing for comedy is evident here, as it is with the series’ other two talented directors, Brad Silberling and Pamela Romanowsky. They bring out the best in a solid cast of young actors, even the supporting cast in roles that break through the stereotypes of overly-invested sidekicks. Instead, they provide the bulk of the show’s humor – particularly an infectiously funny Dante Brown as Dash’s best friend, Boomer. His onscreen presence and genuine chemistry with Abrams is a highlight.
And boy, is Abrams the highlight. Looking back on Levy’s career, he’s worked with actors on the cusp of their prolific notoriety (Rami Malek in Night at the Museum, Adam Driver in This Is Where I Leave You and Joe Keery in Stranger Things). Abrams easily joins that list; an actor whose name and face will become more recognizable to the masses in the coming years. Like Driver, mostly, Austin Abrams nails that unique blend of subtle and dry. That is why Midori Frances as energetic Lily is an endearing, compatible match. She plays Lily not as a caricature of an insecure 17-year-old but a realistic one, dealing with painfully awkward and disappointing moments she has to evoke through her eyes. Both actors do it so well.
While the characters’ problems may seem trivial at times through the lens of 2020, it is of no fault to the production itself. “Right now it’s bittersweet for everyone to watch movies and shows set in a pre-Coronavirus world,” Levy said about Dash and Lily. “It feels like a time capsule. And certainly the bustle of New York City is a reminder of a simpler time. And I hope it’s also a reminder of a time that we will someday get back to.”
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow … and shows like this help. Dash and Lily is available November 10 on Netflix.