When Joe Tracz set out to adapt the YA novel Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares as a Netflix series starring Midori Francis and Austin Abrams, the world was a different place. The coronavirus pandemic hadn’t yet hit, so he was able to film the charming, holiday romantic comedy in New York City during a time before masks, social distancing, and fears of getting sick on set.
It wasn’t until it was in postproduction that Dash & Lily shut down in March and crew members had to work remotely. Tracz told BuzzFeed News that working on the show while grappling with the beginning of the pandemic was a coping mechanism.
“Those first few weeks for me were just so full of fear and terror as life changed without us even realizing that was a possibility, and for me working on the show and seeing the scenes of New York when it was bustling and all these places I loved and wanted to be at again was actually how I coped during those first few weeks,” Tracz said. “I took a lot of comfort in the fact that New York is a city that has been through so much and it’s always survived, and just seeing New York and New Yorkers onscreen was a way of reminding myself that we’re going to get through this.”
Dash & Lily, which started streaming on Netflix in November, follows high schoolers Dash (Abrams) and Lily (Francis) on a hopeful adventure around New York City through Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. During the holiday season, Christmas-loving Lily leaves a red notebook for someone to find at her favorite bookstore, the Strand, asking them to answer questions about themself and embark on a journey of clues that will eventually reveal her identity.
Enter Dash, a cynic who doesn’t find much joy in the holidays, who comes across Lily’s notebook and decides to participate in her subsequent scavenger hunt around New York. They write back and forth to each other, leaving the notebook in different places to find, and despite a few roadblocks, fall in love.
“Our show is a romantic fantasy where beautiful, wonderful things happen, and it’s also a show about two people who are very different and challenge each other through this notebook to each see the world through someone else’s point of view,” Tracz said. “Beyond the escapism, I want people to take away from the show a sense of what happens when you get outside of yourself and your bubble and you see the humanity of other people out there. Dash and Lily end up coming to a place where their understanding of each other and themselves is greater by the end of the show because of how they helped each other step outside their own boxes.”
Tracz said what he loved about the original novel, written by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, was how unique the characters are because their differences allow them to help each other grow and evolve.
“Dash is cynical and I think he’s someone who says, ‘Well, I’m just being realistic,’ and Lily would push him and say, ‘Well, why do you think being cynical is a realistic way to be? Why not choose to believe? Why not choose to work for the best, have hope, and actually work toward that better world?’” Tracz said. “I feel these characters actually have something to say about the world we’re in now and how to get through it.”
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise and nix large gatherings and family traditions, Tracz said he hopes Dash & Lily can be a source of comfort for people in the same way it was for him during the beginning of the pandemic. For just a few hours, Tracz said people can escape into a fictional world void of COVID-19 and political strife and find a message of hope and love instead.
“The show can be some great holiday escapism and the message behind it is something that I hope people will also take with them this season,” he said. “I hope something that people can take away from the show is that you may not be able to physically visit some of these places in New York City, and you may not be able to be with all the people you love this year, but those things are out there and they’re magical and we’re going to go to them again and be together one day.”