Back in 2018, Courteney Cox revealed some brand new information about her 27-year bond with former costars Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow, telling Us Weekly, "Lisa, Jennifer and I all have a text chain."
Say it with us now: "Oh. My. God."
Okay, it's not that surprising that the longtime friends (and Friends) have their own group chat—they've been tight since before cell phones were even a thing. But, seriously, could they be any cuter? Because, ever the Monica, Cox admitted she stresses out about crafting the perfect text, a thought witty enough to get a laugh out of two women who've built a career out of being funny.
"To me it's too much pressure," Cox shared. "I'm not into the group text chain. I really don't like it!" Because even when she does come up with something she deems clever enough to send, she continued, "Then you send the text and they don't get it."
Fortunately, even at her worst, she's best with them.
The famous trio has been there for each other (when the rain started to pour and like they've been there before) for the better part of three decades. But now we get to be there, too, getting a front row seat (from our couch) to their most recent reunion.
Actually, the May 27 HBO Max special, "The One Where They Get Back Together," was just the second time every one of the NBC phenomenon's leads have been able to gather in the same place since the series' finale aired on May 6, 2004. And the first was in 2019, six of the most famous faces of the late '90s meeting up to provide Aniston with one of the greatest Instagram debuts of all time.
Because while the female half of the cast seems to hang out on the regular, they're continuously striving to have the rest of the sextet—Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer—join in. Noting their disparate lives and shooting schedules, Kudrow joked during a 2015 appearance at Vulture Festival that they're "constantly" throwing out potential dates. "It's crazy," she says of the six-person coordination, "but it's sweet that we're trying, isn't it?"
Their hang some 20 months ago was the culmination of years of effort—and it was totally worth it. "We spent 10 years together, almost every day," Kudrow reminisced in a 2015 interview with The Guardian. "We all went through something significant together, and that's a strong bond. As you get older, you realize, oh, you don't have that with just about everybody."
Which is why any time they do manage to be in the same place at the same time, "It's like no time has passed," LeBlanc told People of walking back onto Warner Bros. Studio's Stage 24 for the much-hyped (and slightly COVID-delayed) special. "We pick up right where we left off."
Almost from the jump, the cast was an insular group. Skyrocketing from freshman comedy to literal must-see-TV as the anchor of NBC's weighty Thursday night lineup was a heady experience for a collection of young, largely unknown stars. And in a pre-Instagram world it was hard to predict just how much that level of attention would affect their lives.
"It's scary, it's jarring, it's not what you thought it would be," Kudrow admitted at Vulture's event. "And then, thank god, there were six of us together at the same time going through it."
Even in those early weeks, some 20 million viewers were tuning in to watch the collection of twentysomethings fumble their way through life in New York City, making it the second-rated new comedy, Katie Couric informed the stunned cast during a 1994 Today sit-down.
"It's pretty amazing, I mean I think we're all really sort of taken aback by it because to us, down here, it just seems we're all just sort of a theater group," LeBlanc responded. "We're a really tight ensemble, we get along really well. It's just a real productive environment and a great time."
Perhaps it was prescient knowledge of what was to come. Or, more likely, director James Burrow's desire to have the cast of a show based on friendship truly jell, but the costars made it a priority to live up to their sitcom's premise.
"I think it was unspoken but we instinctively felt like we need to be friends, we need to get along, we need to connect," Kudrow recalled on NBC's Must See TV: An All-Star Tribute to James Burrows in 2016. So Burrows nudged them in the right direction: "We started playing poker and Jimmy gave us his room so we could have a bigger hangout room for us."
Soon, the girls were getting together for lunch "every single day," Cox recalled on the special, "and we ate the same food—a Jennifer salad." (For inquiring minds, that would be a Cobb, but with turkey bacon and garbanzo beans.) Noted Aniston, "We fell in love with each other and wanted to hang out."
The crew was so tight, that as Kudrow recently revealed during a visit on Conan, whenever son Julian, now 23, would visit set, "He'd fly" into Aniston's lap. "Well, she's a love bug, and that made sense. And I was always glad for anyone that Julien felt love for and felt from." Though as a result, she continued, "At home, she'd be on TV, and he'd go, 'Mommy!'"
So the cast really felt like family, which made breaking up extremely hard to do. While Kudrow has copped to feeling a pang of wistfulness when she's had to say goodbye to other roles, "With Friends, I actually cried," she said.
And it wasn't just the absence of that $1 million-per-episode paycheck. Even before the last season she was fretting about its potential demise. "When I really thought we might not come back, I remember driving home and I burst into tears thinking, 'Oh, I'm going to miss Phoebe, and Monica and Rachel and Joey and Chandler,'" she shared at the Vulture event. "I miss those people. I really do. They were fun."
Both she and Perry have gone on-record saying that just maaaaaybe they should have eked out a few more seasons. "I find myself sort of reminiscing about about how much fun the show was, and the hours that we worked. You know, you can see how much we laughed and everything," Perry revealed, interviewing Kudrow as the guest host on a 2013 episode of CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight. As a matter of fact, he continued to Kudrow, that when he'd been asked to talk about the experience with The Hollywood Reporter, "I found myself saying, 'If I had a time machine, I would like to go back to 2004 and not have stopped."
He hasn't changed his tune in the years since. Asked by People the advice he'd give his younger self, he replied, "'Do an eleventh season.'"
Kudrow may have signed up for that particular ride. "If it were up to us, like, individually, oh, I would keep going," she said. "There would have come a time anyway when someone would have said, 'We've had enough.' But why not have fun until they do?"
Which was a large driver in deciding to sign on for more good times. It's something fans have been clamoring for pretty much since the day the finale aired in 2004—a request that only grew more fervent now that Hollywood has turned reviving old hits into its favorite pastime.
Apparently it was a topic of conversation at their October 2019 gathering. "We all happened to have a window of time so we all got together," Aniston revealed shortly after during an interview on The Howard Stern Show. "We laughed so hard." And amid the telling of inside jokes and catching up on each other's lives, they reminisced a bit about the way things were: "We all miss it every day."
They've already done a few one-off trips down memory lane. There was the one where Cox and Kudrow crushed a round of Friends trivia on a 2016 episode of CBS' Celebrity Name Game. The time Kudrow and Aniston competed to deliver the most inventive curse words during a 2014 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! And of course the one where they all indulged Kimmel in a little fan fiction.
And it's not as if they all haven't tried to work out a way to get the gang back together on camera...and not just as actors playing pals turned IRL besties.
During a 2014 AMA session, Kudrow told fans, getting "to spend that much time with those people again would be heaven!" And Aniston offered up her services in coming up with a new angle. "Courteney and Lisa and I talk about it. I fantasize about it," she told InStyle. "It really was the greatest job I ever had. I don't know what it would look like today, but you never know. So many shows are being successfully rebooted."
Should the guys prove to be a stumbling block, The Morning Show star had a suggestion: "We just give it some time and then Lisa, Courteney and I could reboot The Golden Girls and spend our last years together on wicker furniture."
They've got some time to workshop it at the get-togethers, the birthday parties and dinners out at West Hollywood spots like Sunset Tower and Craig's.
"They grew up together and went through this formidable life experience that was Friends," a source told E! News. So, much like you might meet up with coworkers from your first job, they make it a point to get happy hours on their calendar. "Geographically its not hard to be at Courteney's Sunday dinners or at a pool party at Jen's house," noted the source. "They all feel incredibly close and always will be."
Other parts of the group manage to catch up as well, with Monica and Chandler (er, Cox and Perry) meeting up for a November 2019 lunch date that had the actress crowing, "Could I BE any happier?"
And when Perry and LeBlanc were both filming on the CBS lot in 2016 they'd often meet in the middle of their two sets, though, noted LeBlanc, "I could not see him for five years, and then put me in a room with him, and it will be like I saw him yesterday. We still have this shorthand with one another. It's amazing, really."
Kudrow agrees, calling time spent with her costars as "heaven," their outings filled with competing jokes and nonstop laughter.
When they're not guesting on each other's shows (both Kudrow and Aniston made appearances on Cox's comedy Cougar Town while Cox took a turn on the Kudrow-produced Who Do You Think You Are?), they're turning up simply to celebrate each other.
Feting Cox on her birthday a few years back, Aniston and Kudrow (along with Jennifer Meyer, Sara Foster, Molly McNearney and Jason Bateman) held court at an outdoor table well past 1 a.m. "Everyone was in high spirits, laughing and telling stories," said one onlooker. "They were having such a great time."
Which is pretty standard with this crew.
Because, as Aniston noted at the Burrows tribute, they've been through something that's hard to explain to those on the outside looking in. "We experienced friendship, family, heartbreak, babies, everything, together," she said. "And we also had a wonderful experience with the world loving us as well."
Almost as much as they love each other.
(Originally published July 30, 2018, at 3 a.m. PT)