The red notebook our heroine Lily leaves on the shelves at The Strand in hopes of it landing in the hands of a possible romantic interest has some ground rules laid out before the finder of the book can play her game, and so it only feels right that these recaps should, too.
Rule No. 1: If you hate the holidays or should you find the idea of “Christmas spirit” eye-roll inducing, this is not the show nor the recap for you. Sure, the premiere episode of Dash & Lily focuses on Dash, the cynical, lonely, artsy, cool-but-very-nice guy who I’m not sure entirely exists out in the real world but is very much alive in YA television, movies, and books, and Dash calls Christmas “the most detestable time of the year,” but come on, people, we all know where this is headed. If you are not open to being won over by the magic of the holidays, you should put this show back on the metaphorical shelf.
Rule No. 2: If you are unwilling to suspend your disbelief and buy that a teenage girl leaving a book of dares among the stacks of The Strand would easily find its way into the hands of said lonely-but-nice teen boy who could maybe be perfect for her and not say, turn into some unfortunate catfish situation (on either end!), again, this is not for you. Listen, friend, we all get that the premise of this series (and the premise of the novel, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, on which it is based) is entirely implausible. But that does not matter here. Dash & Lily has a sprinkle of magical realism to it. Like the Christmas Spirit, you must simply just believe.
And that’s it! There are only two rules here because this is a lovely little joy-filled holiday rom-com and if that is not your jam, that is fine but maybe don’t you deserve a little time to let the romance and holiday magic wash over you? It feels so good, I promise.
If you can follow those two rules you may proceed, dear reader.
It’s December 17 in a New York City where the coronavirus pandemic does not exist (this is alternately refreshing for escape purposes and depressing to be reminded of how different an NYC Christmas will look this year), and after being nearly knocked over by a tinsel-carrying Union Square Holiday Market patron, getting thoroughly grossed out by happy couples who surely are just mistaking the holiday spirit for love, and being annoyed by a group of carolers in which only one person knows the words to the song they’re singing, cynical teen Dash heads to his sanctuary: The Strand. There, next to J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey (because yes of course Dash, Angsty Teenage Boy, loves Salinger), he finds a red notebook with “Do You Dare?” written on the cover. Of course he dares. What else would we be doing here?
He finds what he believes to be a kindred spirit in the author of the notebook, who has left a little scavenger hunt around the bookstore to figure out what question she wants to ask him. Perpetually annoyed book clerk Mark lets it slip that the owner of the notebook is a “her,” and the broken-hearted Dash is even more intrigued. The game ends with Dash up on the mic at the store reading the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s “River,” the Christmas song used in all movies and TV shows to denote that a person is very sad around the holidays, to get the final two words to the author’s question: Are you going to be lonely on Christmas? The mysterious author, or Clue Girl, as Dash starts to call her, wants the reader to respond. If she likes the answer, she’ll write back. Dash is “hooked,” he says. Okay, the adult in me is screaming internally that this teen should be 3,000 times more cautious in this situation and maybe report it to the authorities, but I made up rule No. 2, so I should follow it.
So, why is Dash the Saddest Boy? Typical sad, rich teen stuff: His mom ditched him for Hawaii for the holidays, his dad is not his favorite and not currently in the city — he’s lying to both while hiding out alone in his dad’s swanky apartment — and of course, he’s still nursing a major heartbreak. Last holiday break, his girlfriend Sofia dumped him before moving to Brazil with her family, but now she’s back in town and the dark cloud is looming over Dash. All he wants for Christmas break is to be left alone with his pizza and [checks notes] “a depressing French film about murder.” Okay, fine, you’ve found something for which I refuse to suspend my disbelief: A teenage boy selecting this movie to watch as he wallows? I cannot and will not do it.
It seems as though Dash’s wallowing isn’t merely seasonal, but that he’s been out of sorts ever since his breakup with Sofia. When Dash’s best friend Boomer hears about the notebook and can see Dash is actually smiling when talking about a girl, he treats it like a true miracle. Boomer agrees to help his friend try to catch Clue Girl in the act. Dash writes his answer to Clue Girl’s question and then tells her that once she’s done responding, to return the notebook to the movie shelf at the Two Boots Pizza where Boomer works, hoping Boomer will be able to find out who she is.
The plan fails. Boomer only sees Clue Girl as she makes her way out of the pizza place. He is too late to help his friend. Her response back to Dash, however, may get him closer to solving this mystery: She tells him that she knows he was trying to set her up and it won’t work, but if he follows through on her next dare, he’ll learn her name.
Unfortunately for Dash, that dare involves going to see Santa Claus in Macy’s. He calls the dare sadistic and cruel, but it makes him like Clue Girl even more. A Sad Rich Boy’s heart wants what a Sad Rich Boy’s heart wants, you know?
He completes the dare and gets Santa’s hat, but not without knocking over a whole bunch of display Christmas trees and getting kicked out of the department store by an elf and a security guard. Dash doesn’t care, because (1) Macy’s at Christmas is a hellscape, and (2) because he got what he came for — written with glitter on Santa’s hat is a name: Lily.
The show flips back to the night we met Dash in the holiday market and it turns out that patron with the tinsel who knocked into him was Lily rushing to join the carolers that bothered Dash so much. She was the only one who knew the words. Next up: Lily’s side of the story.
• Dash is a mix of Dan, Nate, and Chuck from Gossip Girl yet still somehow very likable. Don’t ask me how, it’s the magic of Christmas I guess.
• While at The Strand, Dash runs into his ex’s friend Priya who pity-invites him to her Christmas Eve party while making sure he knows Sofia will be there too. He lies and tells her he’ll be in Sweden with his dad all break, but tuck that invitation away for later — consider it Chekov’s party.
• You know Boomer is a stand-up guy because he’s so excited about his aunt who works for the Food Network bringing weird-looking and not-suitable-for-TV food to their holiday gathering and also because he takes the time to correct Dash’s Voldemort reference.
• “Did I wrong you somehow? Did I buy you a James Patterson book for Christmas?” In case you didn’t know the kind of person Dash is yet.