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Of course, Kristen Bell isn’t the only star who loves playing unlikeable characters. Most shows and movies have at least one sleazy, unethical character in them, and the performer playing them always seem to be having the time of their lives. Be it Neil Patrick Harris’s villainous Barney Stinson, Aziz Ansari as the perpetually-selfish Tom Haverford, or basically everyone in “Always Sunny,” there’s something appealing about a character who the story doesn’t need you to care about. As Cameron Diaz once said in an interview about “Bad Teacher,” the movie where she played a borderline monstrous main character: “Playing Elizabeth was very liberating, only because you really don’t care. She doesn’t care, so you can’t really care.”
There’s also the benefit of low expectations: on those rare occasions where these characters do the right thing, it makes more of an impact. It’s what makes Eleanor’s character arc in “The Good Place” so fun to watch: within a couple of episodes we’ve gotten used to Eleanor being ridiculously selfish, so every time she does something nice — even if it’s just the bare minimum you’d expect from a functional member of society — it makes for an incredibly wholesome experience. It’s always fun to peel back the layers of a “bad” character and see what makes them tick, and that’s exactly what makes Kristen Bell’s performance here so consistently compelling.