Netflix’s Dash & Lily is a perfect show at a perfect time—set at Christmas in a pre-pandemic New York with two teenagers slowly falling in love through a citywide scavenger hunt. It’s a true holiday fantasy, packed full of every conceivable Christmas song and incredibly colorful (but still tasteful) costumes and décor. But it’s also a fantasy built on a series of crimes against people working in the retail and service industries. Dash and Lily may be the cutest couple on TV, but they’re also, not to put too fine a point on it, jerks.
Dash & Lily’s inciting incident is a prime example of their jerkitude. Lily, feeling a little lonely given that her brother has found a new boyfriend, her parents are in Fiji, and her grandfather has gone to Florida, decides to go with her brother’s idea for finding a new love. Based on her love of books and how much easier she finds it to express her feelings through writing, she plants a notebook in the Strand bookstore containing a dare—sing a song out loud in the middle of the store—and an invitation, if the dare is fulfilled, to strike up a correspondence. It’s an appealingly romantic idea but also a clear violation of an unspoken social code. You aren’t supposed to leave personal belongings in a store on purpose, and you definitely aren’t supposed to ask the store’s employees to help you do it. For Lily’s scheme to work, a Strand employee has to keep tabs on the notebook and be fully in on the scheme in order to keep it from being pulled from its place or otherwise thrown out.
As Dash and Lily pass the notebook back and forth, they keep having to ask for similar favors. Each new “letter” requires the recipient to go somewhere and do something, and then leave the notebook at the dictated place with a responding page; for instance, in one entry, Lily describes her favorite statue in Central Park and tells Dash to leave the notebook there. But more often than not, the entries require some interaction with other people, all of whom are on the job: a human statue, an information clerk at Grand Central, a hot dog vendor, a department store Santa. Even in the cases where accepting random nonwork tasks and objects from a stranger might not put them in danger of being fired or at least reprimanded (in one instance, a café must leave a table uncleared for however long it takes after Dash vacates it for Lily to come find the notebook he leaves behind), it’s still a hassle. In order to figure out where to leave the notebook at one stage, Dash has to turn himself into a human statue—right next to someone who’s doing it for a living. While the show tries to frame it as a case of showing Dash how hard the feat is, it nonetheless conjures up images of people harassing street artists or Buckingham Palace guards for laughs.
Dash & Lily tries to get around the fact that asking these people to do menial favors is a bit inconsiderate by making most (but not all) of the participants friends or family members, but knowing that arguably makes matters worse. That Lily’s cousin works at the Strand and her uncle moonlights as a Santa Claus makes it easier to believe that they’d agree to help her out, but it also means that, rather than convincing strangers to sign onto her romantic plan, Lily is exploiting her relatives to override any (perfectly sensible) reluctance, convincing her marks to potentially put their jobs in danger so she doesn’t have to sign up for a dating app. As anyone who has ever worked a public-facing job can tell you, work becomes infinitely more stressful over the holidays. Requests like Dash’s and Lily’s only make things worse. Sure, they have their reasons, but so does anyone who’s ever asked if you can’t just keep the store open five more minutes.
It’s only fitting Dash & Lily ends with yet another act of self-involvement. Lily is in a taxi with her parents on the way to the airport as they’re leaving New York to live in Fiji but upon receiving a last message from Dash via text (well, text of a photo of a page of the notebook), gets out of the car while they’re stuck in traffic and runs to the (closed) Strand, where he’s instructed her to meet him. Dash has transformed the bookstore’s second floor into a Christmas wonderland, with a table filled with food and Christmas lights everywhere. It’s a beautiful, romantic gesture—but who’s going to clean this all up, and is it even allowed? At the very least, it seems like Lily’s Strand-working cousin will have a lot of questions to answer in the morning, and meanwhile, as Lily herself points out, her last-minute detour has probably caused her parents to miss their international flight, which they’re taking so that her dad can start his new job.
That obliviousness to how much of a hassle Dash and Lily’s notebook-passing game is to everyone who’s not Dash and Lily threatens to sour the otherwise very sweet proceedings, especially as we enter a holiday season that will put more pressure on service workers than ever. The show generally moves fast enough that Dash and Lily’s blitheness can be ignored, but even a second’s pause to think about what’s happening generates more sympathy for the characters around Dash and Lily than the central couple themselves. Love may be all you need, but in the case of Dash & Lily, a little consideration for others wouldn’t hurt.