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Why Pam From Meet The Parents Looks So Familiar

Back in 2000, the film Meet the Parents starred Teri Polo as the girlfriend of Ben Stiller's Greg Focker and the daughter of Robert De Niro's Jack Byrnes. The movie became a hit, and she went on to portray the character in a couple of sequels, Meet the Fockers and Little Fockers. Now, two decades later, Polo may still be best known as Pam Byrnes-Focker, despite a diverse career that's spanned four decades. 

Polo started out in 1986 with a role in the soap opera Loving, and she hasn't stopped working since then. Her TV career remains a bit more noteworthy than her movie résumé, with guest turns or recurring roles on shows like Ghost Whisperer, FelicitySports Night, Frasier, and Curb Your Enthusiasm in the mix, plus a regular role in the final season of Northern Exposure. So, if you're thinking you've probably seen her elsewhere, you're probably right. Here are a few of the places you might have caught Teri Polo on-screen over the years. 

Teri Polo played the first lady in The West Wing

In the last season of The West Wing, Teri Polo played poised, sophisticated First Lady Helen Santos, wife of President Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits). The character was a bit more conservative than Polo is, which appears to have contributed to her feeling out of her element when she walked onto the set.

"I think I was a little too crazy for them, not quite as subdued as they would like Helen to be," Polo told The West Wing Weekly. "So my hair was a little crazy, I had tattoos and piercings and stuff like that, so that all kinda went away, which was great! Because it made me feel more like Helen." 

She said she always felt like a guest on that show, even though, had it continued, she would have probably featured prominently in coming episodes. "I just was in so over my head," she said about the experience of entering an iconic show. Still, as she played a reluctant woman in politics, it worked for her. "So I think that translated really well on the screen, to be perfectly honest," she said. "I think that that in a way kind of works for Helen, because she was — she was in over her head and a fish out of water."

Teri Polo appeared briefly in two Law & Order series

Teri Polo has guest-starred on both Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: LA. In Law & Order: LA, she played Rex Winters' (Skeet Ulrich) wife, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer named Casey Winters. She appeared during the show's first season in three episodes.

She also played two different characters in Law & Order: SVU, and her appearances in SVU bookend the ones she made in the other series. In the 2014 episode "American Disgrace," she plays the daughter of a sportswear magnate when the face of the company's clothing line is charged with rape. This episode was apparently filmed during The Fosters' downtime.

Wolf Films, which produces the different Law & Order series, has posted some short behind-the-scenes videos in which Polo prominently figures, and she's clearly having some fun on the set. In one, she gets an unexpected kiss from co-star Ulrich, and in the other, she jokes about the on-set décor, wishes for a doughnut, and mentions her tattoo.

Teri Polo was police officer and mom Stef Foster in The Fosters and its spinoff

From 2013 to 2018, Teri Polo starred in Freeform's The Fosters as Stef Foster, one half of the lesbian couple that raises one biological and four adopted children. The family drama was lauded for its inclusivity and its positive messages and made stars out of some of the teens involved, including Maia Mitchell and Noah Centineo. While the show was cancelled in 2018, Polo has also guest-starred a few times on its follow-up, Good Trouble, which starts a third season in February 2021

"As a whole, it's one of the top three most amazing casts I've ever worked with," Polo told Parade about The Fosters. "The most unbelievable, well-oiled machine I've ever worked with, but these guys are beautiful people, and they're beautiful kids, and we love each other. We've said this for years, people don't believe us, but we do genuinely love each other."

She didn't mention which other casts she was referring to, sadly, but given the praises she's heaped upon The West Wing, it's possible that's one of the three.