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Why Detective Estrada From The Little Things Looks So Familiar

The Little Things has dropped on HBO Max, continuing Warner Bros.' fresh new direct-to-VOD approach to blockbuster releases. The film mixes the combined charisma and gravitas of Denzel Washington with the picture-perfect casting of Jared Leto as a suspected serial killer named Albert Sparma. Nine out of ten scientists agree that Jared Leto was always meant to play a suspected serial killer named Albert Sparma. If you could express Jared Leto as an onomatopoeia, it would sound like "a suspected serial killer named Albert Sparma."

They're not alone, of course. In addition to the never-not-good work of Rami Malek, The Little Things stars another familiar face — one that you might just have struggled to put your metaphorical finger on. If you were pondering the identity of the performer who played Detective Estrada in The Little Things, the answer is Natalie Morales.

Morales' career is a tough one to nail down, running the gamut from voice work in the video game adaptation of Pimp My Ride to directing Pulaski, a short film collaboration with Andrew Bird to raise awareness about gun violence. As for the question of what you recognize her from, the answer is actually multiple choice.

Natalie Morales got off to a funky start with The Middleman

Setting aside the requisite early appearance on an episode of CSI: Miami, Natalie Morales' first major break was on ABC Family's superhero television adaptation of The Middleman, based on the Viper Comics series of the same name. For twelve episodes in 2008, she played Wendy Watson: artist, A.N.D. Laboratories temp employee, and proud inheritor of the noble comic book tradition of alliterative monickers.

The Middleman was nine meaty layers of cult television weirdness. The story revolved around Wendy's recruitment into an organization tasked with ridding the earth of antagonistic weirdness, from mobster movie-quoting criminal gorillas to living Terra Cotta warriors. Honestly, the Wiki page summarizing each episode reads like an internet troll took over editing duties and nobody ever noticed — the show was equal parts Men in Black and Better Off Ted. Too weird to live, The Middleman only lasted a single season before getting the axe, but Morales' performance cemented her as a performer that was worth keeping eyes on.

Natalie Morales suffered a terrible fate in Parks and Rec

Between 2010 and 2015, Natalie Morales found herself in the same spot as a lot of remarkably talented young actresses of the era. It was a position as lucrative and steeped in mainstream exposure as it was a tragic waste of fictional affection: she dated Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation.

Or rather, her character Lucy did. First appearing in the season 2 episode "The Master Plan," Lucy is introduced as a bartender at Pawnee's iconic Snakehole Lounge, where she and Aziz Ansari's Tom hit it off and start up a season-long relationship before parting ways. She even manages to escape Indiana, attending graduate school in Bloomington and eventually moving to Chicago. But not all of the love interests of the inventor of Snake Juice can be as lucky as Tatiana Maslani, who got out for good via a one-way ticket to Rwanda. Lucy is pulled back into Haverford's orbit in season 4, eventually getting back together with him after he offers her a job at Tom's Bistro. By the decades-spanning Parks and Rec series finale, the two are married. Not everybody gets a happy ending.

Natalie Morales kept the faith in Santa Clarita Diet

Chalk up another tally in the "criminally underrated cult television" column. For three deeply disturbing, puzzlingly heartwarming seasons of family, merry mixups, and cannibalism, Natalie Morales contributed her considerable acting chops to Netflix's Santa Clarita Diet, playing police officer Anne Garcia.

Garcia spends much of the series as a looming threat to morally objectionable protagonists Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila (Drew Barrymore). Her occupational interest in solving the mysterious disappearance of her partner comes into direct conflict with the couple's having killed and eaten him, and her presence becomes semi-permanent when she starts dating her old colleague's widow, Joel and Sheila's neighbor, Lisa.

Santa Clarita Diet clearly gave viewers a lot to unpack and Morales' character was given two heaping scoops of complication between her romantic life and her later assertion that Sheila was a vengeful tool of God, doing His good work on Earth by chowing down on heathens. Morales handled the role wonderfully, but the show's untimely cancellation after season 3 left fans with as many questions as it did answers. Garcia was last seen reluctantly abandoning her penchant for proselytizing, but the door was left open for an enthusiastic return.