The Americans is the best new show on TV. This would be true even if the 2012-2013 season hadn’t produced dud after dud, Animal Practice after Guys with Kids; few series in recent memory have come out of the red-ribboned box as confident and thrilling as The Americans has. Even its FX counterpart Justified took a season to figure out what kind of show it wanted to be. But the saga of everyone’s favorite undercover Russian couple who want to cure the world of the American way of life came instantly packaged for instant entertainment, largely because of the stellar work done by future-Emmy winner Keri Russell, who celebrates her 37th birthday today.
In honor, let’s take a look back at Keri’s career, to see how she went from pink bikinis to black wigs.
1. Her first film role was in 1992’s Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, where she played Robert Oliveri’s love interest, Mandy. She left little to the imagination, which was the style at the time.
2. A year later, she made her non-Mickey Mouse Club TV debut in the Boy Meets World episode, “Grandma Was a Rolling Stone,” as Mr. Feeny’s niece who Eric falls for.
3. It was an unwritten rule, I think, that every Married…with Children guest star had to wear something revealing, so during her one-episode appearance, in season nine’s “Radio Free Trumaine,” Keri obliged.
4. Playing the “other woman” in Bon Jovi’s “Always” music video? Not one of her finest moments.
5. In 1995, Disney produced a televised spin-off of Kevin Smith’s Clerks, starring no one from the film and making no mention of Silent Bob. Jim Breuer was cast as Randal, while Keri played a strip mall tanning saloon employee named Sandra. The pilot never aired.
6. I don’t know what 1996’s The Babysitter’s Seduction is, but it looks GREAT.
7. Also in 1996, a starring role in Aaron Spelling’s short-lived Malibu Shores.
8. Despite its Beatles-referencing title, Eight Days a Week is apparently most notable for featuring Dishwalla’s 1996 hit “Counting Blue Cars,” at least according to Wikipedia.
9. Then came Felicity, which, yeah. Fun fact: the theme song basically explains the plot of The Americans.
10. After Felicity ended in 2002, Keri went from one forgettable part to another, with the exception of roles in Mission: Impossible III and especially the Sundance-hit Waitress.
11. She made two memorable appearances on Scrubs in 2007, as Elliot’s sorority sister.
12. It would be another three years before her next TV role, in Mitch Hurwitz’s disappointing Running Wilde.
13. And finally, The Americans. According to Keri, “Originally, I didn’t know that I wanted to do it. I always say no to everything. I never want to do anything. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read it…and I kept trying to figure it out, because it’s so not clear.” She’s given a stunning performance so far — it’s gotten to the point where after only eight episodes, I think of her as Elizabeth, not Felicity, a once-unthinkable comment. On the surface, Elizabeth, a part-time mom, full-time bad ass spy who goes through revealing costumes the way Russians do cans of caviar, is a “sex symbol,” but to reduce her to merely that is to let your guard down, at which point she’ll shoot you in the head or, if you’re lucky, just kick your ass. There’s no one quite like her on TV right now, something the Emmys should keep in mind.