The Conners’ Emma Kenney And Ethan Cutkosky On How Their Big Shameless Reunion Happened

Harris at kitchen table on The Conners
(Image credit: ABC)

Spoilers below for the latest episode of The Conners, so be warned if you haven’t yet watched “Parent Traps and Heart Attacks.”

The fourth episode of The Conners’ fourth season finally delivered an on-screen update for D.J. following Michael Fishman’s surprise exit, with the military vet off visiting his wife Geena. Perhaps more interestingly, at least for Shameless fans, the ABC sitcom delivered a Gallagher sibling reunion for Emma Kenney and guest star Ethan Cutkosky, who joined this universe as Louise and Neville’s orphaned nephew Caleb. CinemaBlend was on-hand while Episode 504 was filming, and talked to both stars about reuniting in a tonally different family environment. 

When our own Sarah El-Mahmoud spoke with Emma Kenney and Ethan Cutkosky about him joining The Conners, she asked how this guest spot came about. It appears there wasn’t much behind the decision, at least where the actor was concerned, as he explained it by saying:

I literally just got a call and they're like, 'Hey, do you want to come on this episode and play a character?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, that'd be awesome.' It kind of just went from there. And I got on the call with Bruce, and kind of talked a little bit about what the character entailed, and what they were looking for. And from there on, I kind of just like held it in. I wasn't gonna tell Emma. I was waiting to get on set so I could surprise her, and be like, 'Hey, you're here too.' Somebody ended up spilling it, so she called me like two weeks after, and she's like, 'What the hell? You're coming on the show? Why didn't you tell me?' So here we are, shooting our first day.

It seems like it’d be impossible for anyone from Shameless’ cast to be able to join The Conners for one or more episodes without Emma Kenney finding out about it ahead of time, as cool as it would have been for all involved for that to happen. Would showrunner Bruce Helford & Co. be able to secretly cast Jeff Bridges and Steve Buscemi without their Big Lebowski co-star John Goodman finding out? I guess I have no idea, dude.

Caleb on The Conners

(Image credit: ABC)

While it would probably take one of the producers to offer a specific explanation for why the team reached out to Cutkosky, Kenney did bring up that the writers have an affinity for Shameless, which played into her nontraditional casting process. In her words:

The whole team, they're all Chicago guys, and they all loved Shameless. So when I came onto the show, I had to screen test originally, but it was a bit of an offer in a weird way. I just had to prove it. So they definitely knew who the both us were, and yeah, I'm really glad about it. [Laughs.]

One can only hope for more Shameless vets to pop up in Lanford as the seasons go by. And considering ABC has now confirmed The Conners will celebrate its biggest episode count yet at 22 (per Deadline), maybe they can find a way to bring in Cameron Monaghan (with or without references to his Gotham magnificence) or The Bear’s Jeremy Allen White with one of those extra episodes.  

Harris and Caleb cheers beer on The Conners

(Image credit: Netflix)

How Filming The Conners Compares To Shameless

There are certainly comparisons that could be made between Caleb’s late substance abusing father and Frank Gallagher, who sired Cutkosky’s Carl and Kenney’s Debbie on the Showtime hit Shameless. But that's a conversation for another time, and presumably one fueled by brown libations. When it comes how their respective experiences on The Conners compared to eleven seasons of filming the Showtime dramedy, the two stars' years-long relationship was obvious as they went back and forth. 

  • EMMA: Like, for me, the biggest thing was the single- to multicam back and forth. I went through a few years where I was doing both shows actually, at the same time, Shameless and The Conners. I would literally stage-hop and studio-hop daily, filming both. So there was definitely like a tone change. Also just blocking, you have to cheat out in multicam; that's something you kind of learn. It's been fun to watch Ethan. This is his first multicam, I believe.
  • ETHAN: Yeah, first time ever being on a sitcom.
  • EMMA: He's learned and he's gotten the rhythm of it so quick.
  • ETHAN: Definitely coming in, you're like, 'Oh, this is very much a tonal change from shooting on Shameless, and how we were.' Like I just told her, everyone here is very chill. A very relaxed crew. I'm like, this is very relaxed.
  • EMMA: Everybody's in a good mood. The hours are great, the people are lovely, the scripts are funny.

But even though many of the details were different for the two actors, by way of performance styles, the presence of a studio audience, and more, Ethan Cutkosky found a similar flow to fall into when it came to dialogue scenes amongst the family at large, saying:

It's has a nice flow to it. But even when we're shooting, it kind of reminds me of being like, 'Oh, okay, this is like our flow that we have in our family scenes on Shameless.' So it has similar values that you can plug into.

Unfortunately, it's unclear how long Cutkosky will be sticking around in Lanford, as the episode ended with the wayward teen making the big choice to join the Marines, in part to spite his dead father's negative attitude about it. Is it weird to hope he doesn't make it in, just so he'll be around the fam-fam more? And also maybe because I'm not convinced Caleb will be a boon for the military?

The Conners airs Wednesday nights on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET, followed by new episodes of The Goldbergs, Abbott Elementary, and Home Economics. Head to our 2022 TV premiere schedule to see what other big shows are yet to hit the small screen.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.