We all know how grueling gym time is but Shruti Saran is here to see the humor in it. Through her web series “Gym Buddies,” she gifts us with a funny fitness satire. It focuses on best friends Aparna and Quinn, played by Nikita Redkar and Chelsea Lane. Aparna wants to join a gym to mend a broken heart and practically forces Quinn to join her with her theatrics. Their dueling personalities - Aparna is neurotic, funny, and self-aware; Quinn is practical and hard-working - make for an entertaining five episodes.
Saran says she wrote it because there is so much material for comedy in gym culture. She’s not wrong. “Gym Buddies” is shot in the gym Move in Austin, TX, giving it room to fully propel into physical comedy using equipment like bouncy balls and weights, something Saran knew she wanted to make use out of.
Redkar, who plays Aparna, was cast in the role because Saran spotted her stand-up comedy performances. Her chemistry with on-screen BFF Quinn, played by Lane, is one of the best parts about “Gym Buddies.” Redkar says its mostly because in real-life, too, Quinn is the type of person she’d love to be friends with.
We spoke to Saran and Redkar about working on “Gym Buddies” and how the entire web series came to be, episode by episode.
Episode 1, “Revenge Body”
We are introduced to Aparna and Quinn as they stare at the abyss that is the gym. A reluctant Quinn, after trying her best to escape, agrees to be her best friend’s gym buddy. Aparna is mostly busy taking selfies and trying to get the upper hand in her breakup.
“This first episode is based on the idea that, while most people join a gym to look better, they often rationalize their decision by saying they want to be healthier or feel better. Aparna is not like that. She is totally transparent about the fact that she wants a #revengebody from the get-go,” Saran said.
It’s established within these few minutes that Aparna and Quinn are very different people. Saran says she wrote Aparna’s character as the stereotypical millennial, who is obsessed with social media and totally unprepared for the reality of exercise. Quinn is written as an actual millennial, who serves as a stable anchor to Aparna’s character. The rest, she says, the actors improvised, referencing also to Jason Gallagher’s Rob, the gym’s flamboyant manager.
Redkar agrees that Aparna knows who she is and she owns it. “It was a cathartic personality to get to act because that’s ultimately how I want to be. Getting to be as dramatic yet accepting as Aparna is made me realize, oh THIS is how it’s done and it’s a great time,” she said.
Saran continues, “That’s the cool thing about filmmaking. Everyone layers their talents onto the script and you end up with this cool, emergent final product that is far better than anything you could have come up with by yourself.”
Episode 2, “Supplements”
It’s officially Aparna and Quinn’s first time at the gym working out and they get there super early. Aparna, still sleepy, suggests they take lots of protein supplements to not only remain awake but to ‘hulk out.’ All of this gives way to a neat twist of sorts at the end.
One of the standout dialogues in this episode is Aparna’s complain about how no one else is awake this early besides Indian parents. Saran says this was included to creatively showcase Aparna’s immaturity and that even though Saran is not like the character at all (Aparna is, in fact, a hot mess), she drew from her own experiences to write the role. “The series itself is a product of my personal observations in gyms,” she said.
As for Redkar, working on this episode automatically meant working out, too. “It felt so method in that sense because I was actually exhausted shooting some of the scenes,” she says, “it’s a good thing Aparna and I don’t have the best history of working out because all the aggravations with “hulk out!” came from a real, real place.”
Episode 3, “Internet Plan”
Musicals are all the rage right now and “Gym Buddies” couldn’t escape it. This episode is almost entirely in song. Called “Internet Plan,” it’s about how the two discover a fitness guru’s plan online and are confident it will work for them.
If this sounds like an ode to “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” it’s because Saran was actually watching the first season of The CW‘s musical dramedy while writing “Internet Plan.” Plus, it gave Saran the opportunity for a fun challenge and to work with her sister Richa, a musician who wrote the episode’s score.
“James Gibson, the sound engineer, had all the actors come to the studio and cover their vocals. Then he did some sort of music sorcery that transformed the song into the super dope track you hear on the episode,” Saran said. Redkar, who has never rapped before but was always a huge fan of the genre, channeled her inner rap diva for this. Think Cardi B. They shot the video for over 8 hours in Austin so Redkar knows she’ll never forget the lyrics to “Internet Plan.”
Saran adds that since they knew they wanted to showcase the city, director Matthew Evan Daniels was determined to make the episode look like a million bucks despite their budget of not-a-million-bucks. “The first day was spent filming all over the city with our leads, Nikita and Chelsea. On the second day, we were back in the gym and Matthew and Errich Petersen, our director of photography, spent hours creating custom lighting set-ups to give the gym a club atmosphere. Then a bunch of extras from the Austin comedy community showed up and made the club gym portion of the episode come to life,” she said. Finally, their editor Ben Martin cut the resultant eight hours of footage into a four and a half minute episode. “It was crazy,” Saran concluded.
Episode 4, “Mansplainer Trainer”
Trainers are the worst because as hard as you try to avoid it, they will force you to work out. Aparna and Quinn, who haven’t really achieved much at the gym yet, get their real dose of good ol’ sweaty exercising. This leads to Aparna relying on feminism and mansplaining to get out of the workout.
Saran says this episode was inspired by an article she read about how in the “Wonder Woman” movie, the roman armor-inspired costumes were a great example of authentic and functional costume design and a big improvement over the boudoir-inspired costumes from previous films. In the comments section of the article, one guy wrote that he supported the new costumes but that they weren’t necessarily more authentic than Lynda Carter’s costume in the original film. “He was immediately called out for mansplaining by the other commentators and it quickly turned into a conversation about whether or not he was guilty of mansplaining,” Saran says, “I found the whole thing really entertaining and thought it might be funny if Aparna, who is a bit of a misinformed feminist at times, tried to get out of exercising by accusing her personal trainer of mansplaining.”
Redkar and Lane had to both go through the actual exercising bit while shooting it, of course. About her character’s slightly selfish take on feminism, she says that everyone interprets feminism differently. “Aparna definitely showcased a very absurd form of feminism and the fun thing about absurdity on-screen is it’s essentially a mirror to extreme versions of ourselves we can acknowledge and laugh at.”
Episode 5, “Sore”
Finale time! After their first rigorous workout, Aparna and Quinn cannot deal with the body pain and soreness the next day, leading to some truly funny bits like Aparna doing her babysitting job via a video call from her bathroom.
“The season arc was more or less locked before we began filming. I wanted the characters to exhibit a little growth before we said goodbye and I thought that Aparna’s acceptance of her soreness was a huge improvement over her attitude in the previous episodes, where she would do anything to avoid being challenged,” Saran said. Originally, though, Saran says that Aparna was going to join a simple work conference call from her bathroom. Redkar thought it would be funnier if her character’s job was something she couldn’t do remotely. I think babysitting hit it right on the nail.
For now, Saran doesn’t know if she’ll make a second season despite the first season’s more open ending but she’s open to the idea of it. “There is so much fodder for comedy in the fitness and health space and everyone I know has at least one story about trying to overhaul their diet or get in shape. In a way, we are all gym buddies!” Meanwhile, Redkar has a quick and easy answer about where she see’s Aparna’s journey going forward: therapy.