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This Is Us: Every Glorious Pop Culture Reference, From Aladdin to Z Cavaricci

That Ron Howard cameo was just the tip of the iceberg

Malcolm Venable

This Is Us is known for many things, among them Milo Ventimiglia's butt, expertly playing with how time is presented and of course making people cry. Something it's lesser known for though, is its wonderful trove of pop culture references. Everyone remembers Kate's (Chrissy Metz) Madonna-themed birthday party, and that Ron Howard cliffhanger; but what you might not have noticed through misty eyes were the many, many references (and cameos) sprinkled throughout. Do you remember them all?


This Is Us

NBC, Ron Batzdorff/NBC


- Aladdin, Ep. 15. Kate's first celebrity crush, which Toby (Chris Sullivan) mocks. "Did you see his abs?," she shoots back.

- Ali, Muhammad, Ep. 15. Late athletic icon whose face was over the top of Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) favorite booth at O'Shannon's, the restaurant where she and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) planned to celebrate Valentine's Day.

- American Idol, Ep. 13. The show that kinda-sorta offered Toby (Chris Sullivan) his closest brush with fame: he went to dinner once with the guy who came in 8th place on the Carrie Underwood season. (Which by the way can't be true: that distinction belongs to Nadia Turner.)


- Barbie, Ep. 5. Randall's (Sterling K. Brown) daughters are having a fashion show, and they need Kevin to be the celebrity judge. He is game. Good guy.

- Bay, Michael, Ep. 1. Filmmaker known for his over-the-top, spectacle-filled movies full of explosions, fire and the like whom Kevin mentions after his sister Kate shades him. "You're smarter than you look," she says. "That's what Michael Bay told me," Kevin replies.

- Beginners, Ep. 11. A 2010 movie with Ewan McGregor about a man who learns his dad Hal (Christopher Plummer) is dying -- and gay. Kevin flippantly asks William (Ron Cephas Jones) about the movie not long after William reveals he had been dating a man. "How's the sequel to Beginners going?" he says, which is totally lost on William.

- Bowie, David, Ep. 9. Rock god and owner of mis-matched colored eyes whom Rebecca name checks when describing one of Jack's co-workers. "The one with the David Bowie eye?"


- Care Bears, Ep. 4. Animated characters of the 1980s made iconic through the hit cartoon; Kate wears a Care Bears bikini for their visit to the pool, where she's later body shamed by some awful little girls.

- Challenger, Ep 1. The space shuttle exploded in 1986 -- as many school aged children watched in horror at school. Kevin is one of them, and blathers on about how it's responsible for his crippling anxiety. (O.K. Kevin, sure.)

- Chestnut, Morris, Ep. 7. Actor who, as Kevin is devastated to learn, replaces him on The Manny.

- Clooney, George, Ep. 2. William reveals that the reason he's been asking for money and disappearing for stretches of the day is because he's been visiting his ironically cat named Clooney -- named so because he's "pretty ugly."

- Couric, Katie, Ep. 15. Famed broadcaster who interviews Kevin -- and points out that he slept with both the star and producer of the play The Back of an Egg before calling him a "vapid pretty boy." It was all a dream, though -- apparently one he's had frequently.

Justin Hartley as Kevin, Katie Couric as Katie Couric, This Is Us

Justin Hartley as Kevin, Katie Couric as Katie Couric, This Is Us

Ron Batzdorff/NBC


- "Don't Worry Be Happy," Ep. 11. Bobby McFerrin's 1988 feel-good hit that a hospitalized Toby says he could whistle through his penis, since he has a straw (catheter) so far up his junk.

- Deadpool, Ep. 2. The film Toby is convinced was the idea of Kevin's agent. (Or was it Hamilton?)

- Def Leppard, Ep. 14. The heavily hairsprayed heavy metal band Toby mentions when playing with drumsticks in Kate's weight loss camp class, to the continued annoyance of Kate. And us.


-E.R., Ep. 18. The '90s medical drama Rebecca tells her bandmate Ben (Sam Trammell) she's usually home watching as she begins to panic ahead of her performance.

- Fawcett, Farrah, Ep. 12. Jack suggests naming his daughter after the . Rebecca likes it, but it doesn't stick, obvs.

- Field, Sally. Ep. 1. Beloved actor whom Toby describes as hot when on a date with Kate.

- "Friendly Dolphin," Ep. 1. The extremely awkward viral video of a dolphin getting frisky with a tourist that Kate and Toby watch on YouTube during their first date.

- Florence Foster Jenkins Ep. 5. The 2016 film Randall wants to watch before sex with Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) in the hotel suite Kevin let them use...just before Beth announces she thinks she might be pregnant.


- Gilmore Girls,Ep. 2. At Kevin's Hollywood party, Toby jokingly suggests he wants to "bang" one of the girls at the party. "The Gilmore, the Gil-merrier," he says, clearly referencing one of co-star Milo Ventimiglia's most famous gigs. Sigh.

- Girl Talk board game, Ep. 9. Teenage girl game of the '90s that Olivia (Janet Montgomery) finds at the Pearsons' cabin, leading her to snootily say, "This looks absurd" and, "I think Gertrude Stein had one of these in her Paris salon." Ugh. Bye Olivia.

- Goldblum, Jeff, Ep. 15. Actor Miguel (Jon Huertas) apparently thinks is hot, since he uses him as a point of comparison and way to calm Jack down when Jack is jealous of Rebecca's bandmate Ben. "No matter if this guy was Jeff Goldbum, she only has eyes for you." Jack, rightfully surprised Jeff Goldblum is his exemplary heartthrob, pushes back. "Have you seen Jurassic Park?," Miguel says. "This guy's got something."

- Gomez, Selena. Ep. 1. Disney star turned chanteuse whose song "Hands to Myself" is playing at happening L.A. pool party where Kevin is being lame.


- Hamilton, Ep. 3. Blockbuster Broadway play Miguel says he and Rebecca are going to see. "I feel like I'm going to be the only person on Earth who doesn't like this thing," he says. Miguel: tolerable stepdad, part-time theater critic.

- Home Alone 2: Lost in New YorkEp. 13. The Macaulay Culkin vehicle Toby mentions when he has to spend time in New York alone, without Kate. "If Macaulay Culkin can do it, so can I," Toby says, conveniently forgetting that wasn't exactly a dream vacation for poor little Kevin McCallister.

- Hot mess, Ep. 11. Slang term Kate calls the Big Three when visiting Toby in the hospital with her brothers, since Randall is dealing with his dying dad coming out and Kevin can't choose between two women.

- Howard, Ron, Ep. 17. Mega-producer and pop culture figure who calls Kevin and offers him a gig in L.A.

Mandy Moore as Rebecca, This Is Us

Mandy Moore as Rebecca, This Is Us



- Jheri Curl, Ep. 16. Black hairstyle popular in the '80s that required ungodly amounts of chemicals to maintain -- a style William apparently had. This is revealed when father and son are in a barber shop; Randall admits to having a "Gumby," and William says he had a curl. And he's proud of it! Yeesh.

- Joplin, Janis (Freaking), Ep. 15. The singer who Jack, finally expressing his frustration with Rebecca's plan to go on tour, mentions when griping to Miguel. "Who does she think she is, Janis Freaking Joplin?! We got three teenagers at home."


- King, Carole, Ep. 18. Singer and noted Gilmore Girl enthusiast who Rebecca's friends say she has no chance of becoming when she tells them about her singing career. Who needs enemies with these kind of friends?


- Laverne and Shirley,Ep. 15. The inspiration for Toby's pet turtle, Shirley. "As in Laverne and," he says.

- Lit, Ep. 6. Slang term Randall tries to use, to lame effect, to convince his daughters that his turn at Career Day explaining commodities trading will be cool. (It will not.)

Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson, This Is Us​

Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson, This Is Us

NBC, Ron Batzdorff/NBC

- Lauper, Cyndi, Ep. 3. Artist whose 1983 hit "TimeTime After Time," is Kate's go-to jam. She reveals she used to "rock it like it was her job" as a kid; she later performs it at a home for old folks when Toby has her perform there to boost her confidence.

- Leto, Jared, Ep. 15. Bad boy actor Toby mentions when revealing to Kate he was afraid she'd leave him, calling Duke (Adam Bartley) from the weight loss camp "the Jared Leto of fat camp."

- Lopez, Jennifer, Ep. 3. Singer, dancer, actor, mogul and beauty icon Toby references when trying to give Kate confidence before she performs at the old folks home. "J-Lo wishes she had that ass!," he says. But does she?

- Lopez, Mario, Ep. 1. The Extra correspondent who's seen talking about the "big news" that Kevin quit The Manny in an on-set meltdown. (He's mentioned again in Ep. 7, when Kevin takes Randall to a hip New York restaurant. "Last time I was here I bro'd out with Mario Lopez," Kevin says. Randall: "I don't know who that is.") Look at you Mario! All deep in pop culture and stuff.

- Lovato, Demi, Ep. 5. Pop singer who, according to Randall's girls, "everyone knows" used to date Kevin. Kevin says they're just friends.

Mario Lopez on This Is Us

Mario Lopez on This Is Us



- Madonna, Ep. 13. Performer who inspired the theme of Kate's 10th birthday party -- only to have the whole thing fall apart because of her brother Kevin.

- Magic Eye poster, Ep. 9. Quintessentially '90s posters that hid a 3-D image -- posters that Kevin still can't quite grasp, as revealed on the siblings' trip to the cabin.

This Is Us' Kevin (Justin Hartley) still can't get the Magic Eye poster

This Is Us' Kevin (Justin Hartley) still can't get the Magic Eye poster


- Meyers, Seth, Ep. 7. Late Night with Seth Meyershost whom Kevin and Randall find towering over them as they wrestle on the street after an argument. "Do you want me to call anyone?," Seth says. Um, thanks?

- Misery, Ep. 4. The 1987 Stephen King book Rebecca has been trying to read for two years, which Jack promises she can finish when the family goes to the local pool. (She finishes at the end.)

- Mo' Better Blues, Ep. 6. Spike Lee jazz movie that Beth snarkily asks Randall which character he'd be in after Randall suddenly announces he's going to take up the sax. "Like Wesley (Snipes) inMo' Better Blues," Randall fires back, not missing a beat. God, we love them.

- Monroe, Marilyn, Ep. 12. Sex kitten whose vibe Rebecca replicates for Jack's birthday every year -- except this year (1980) when she realizes she's forgotten it and has a total meltdown.

- "My Funny Valentine." Ep. 14. The jazz standard Rebecca croons with her bandmate Ben ...before she blows up at him when he suggests Jack isn't a great husband.


- Nashville, Ep. 1 - The show on which Kevin has a 3-episode arc -- his biggest role before he got The Manny.

- Notting Hill, Ep. 13. The 1999 Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts movie that's a favorite of Toby, rom com connoisseur. He references it to teach Kevin a lesson about the importance of making grand gestures for a woman he loves. "The end of Notting Hill completely falls apart if Hugh Grant thinks that Julia Roberts is just kind of aiight," he says. "Then he's just annoying her at a press conference." Kevin has never seen the movie. Which is a good thing, so Toby can't ruin it for him.

Chrissy Metz as Kate, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, This Is Us

Chrissy Metz as Kate, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack, This Is Us



- Obamas, the, Ep. 13. Toby, a guest of Kevin at a swanky venue, tells a woman doing the door named Malia "Give my regards to Sasha." She either doesn't get it or wisely tries to ignore him, but he presses on. "It's an Obama joke?" Stop it Toby. Just stop.


- Perry, Katy, Ep. 8. Pop singer whom Randall's oldest daughter Tess (Eris Baker) says Kevin's girlfriend Olivia looks like. (She doesn't.)

- Pac Man, Ep. 2 The video game that inspired the cereal the kids are eating in the opening frame. (There's a G.I. Joe lunchbox too. Memories!)

- Police Academy 3, Ep. 8. The 1984 movie Randall has the family watch on Thanksgiving before he leaves to go get William's tapes, two hours away. We later learn it's the movie Jack brought home from the office to play for his kids on Thanksgiving, which becomes Randall's favorite holiday and an occasion he goes into full OCD mode recreating these traditions.

-Princess Bride, The, Ep. 13. Seminal '80s flick beloved mostly among little girls -- but also boys including Kevin, who makes the movie the theme of his birthday party for the sole purpose of wooing Kate's friend Sophie. It works. (Although that meant everyone left Kate's party, sadly.)

- Punky Brewster, Ep. 14. Kevin tells Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) he's in love with her still, and proves it by recalling what she wore on the first day of fourth grade: overalls, a scrunchie and a Punky Brewster backpack.

Pac-Man cereal, This Is Us

Pac-Man cereal, This Is Us



- Randall, Dudley, Ep. 9. African-American poet who Kevin's parents named him after -- a change from their first name Kyle. He's William's favorite poet.

- Redding, Otis, Ep. 8. Legendary soul artist William tells Randall he listens to every Thanksgiving, alone.

- Ryan, as in Phillippe, Gosling or Reynolds. Ep. 1. Kevin's producer says to him, "I'll have you replaced by Ryan Phillipe, Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds or any other handsome Ryan by the time you get to your car." Ouch.

- Rocky 2, Ep. 8. The movie Kevin's initial love interest Olivia says she's going to go watch on Thanksgiving.

Justin Hartley, This Is Us​

Justin Hartley, This Is Us

NBC, Ron Batzdorff/NBC

- Rubix cube, Ep. 4. The multi-colored puzzle game that was a hit in the '80s, which Randall and Kevin fight over and Randall solves instantly -- the first big clue he's a gifted child.


- Shamu, the Killer Whale, Ep. 1. The whale a heavily pregnant Rebecca compares herself to.

- Sisqo, Ep. 14. The oft-platinum haired R&B singer of the early aughts Beth references in a burn to her husband Randall. "Please take off that shirt off. It wasn't cool on Sisqo in 2001, and it's not cool now." God, we LOVE Beth.

- Soup Nazi, Ep. 11. Defining Seinfeldcharacter Randall references when William turns down his offer to get dim sum in favor of spending time with his boyfriend Jesse (Denis O'Hare). "No soup dumplings for you!" Randall says. Oh, Randall.

- "Straighten Up and Fly Right," Ep. 6. Nat King Cole's song that Rebecca sings around the house ahead of her first rehearsal in 10 years. "Sounds good," Jack tells her.

- Stax, Ep. 16. Landmark music destination -- an epicenter of legendary soul music that William and Randall pass by on their trip to Memphis.

- Super Bowl XIV, Ep. 5. The 1980 game -- Steelers vs. L.A. Rams -- that Rebecca and Jack watch at Froggy's, which leads to the conception of the Big Three.

- Swift, Taylor, Ep. 3. Pop singer Toby references when he literally rolls out the red carpet for Kate in a faux paparazzi setup. "Who are you wearing?," he shouts. "Is it true that you're dating Taylor Swift?"


- Thicke, Alan, Ep. The late actor who makes a surprise cameo in the very first episode, guest starring on The Manny when Kevin (Justin Hartley) has a breakdown and quits. "Break a leg kid," he says. Aw. Rest in peace, sir.

- Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles, Ep. 8. The action figures Kevin and Randall are playing with as Rebecca tries to make a dish for Thanksgiving. (They end up causing a glass plate of cranberries to crash to the floor.)

- Terrible towel, Ep. 1. The Pittsburgh Steelers' famous rallying item Jack uses to cover his junk and tush in that now-famous scene.


Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us


- Tinder, Ep. 11. The dating app William tells Randall is where he met his boyfriend Jesse. (He did not. Also: William is better at jokes than his son.)

- Today Show, Ep. 5. Morning program whose hostsMatt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie are name-checked by Kate when she and Toby have an intense heart-to-heart after he found out she'd been stalking his ex. "You know who's good together?," he asks. Kate, deflecting as she so often did, says, "Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie?" Stop blocking your blessings Kate!


-Van Clief, Ron, Ep. 9. Afro-American marital arts expert and actor mentioned as a potential role model for Randall, when Jack takes him to a studio in search of black male role models for his son. Jack: father of the year.


- What's Happening, Ep. 1. Sitcom of the 1970s. As Randall tells Beth, the whole situation where he brings home his dad is like an episode of What's Happening (or The Manny).

- Wicked, Ep. 10. The Broadway play that Sloan's dad reveals he was asked to invest in, but passed. Smooth move, dude.

- Webster, Ep. 2. The '80s sitcom about a black kid adopted by rich white parents, and Randall's nickname that mean kids give him at school. Kevin uses it too, saying to his mom, "Webster told me to shut up!" Miguel, later on, offers up, "I love that show," clearly dim to how much it hurts Randall.

- Weezer, Ep. 17. The band that Jack tells his daughter Kate she should be preoccupied with rather than her parents' martial woes -- the band whose name he can't initially place. "The band that sounds like they're always kidding?"

- Westworld, Ep. 13. HBO program featuring hot robots that Toby references when at a sexy bar with Kevin. "Wow, you see these women? They look like Westworld hosts." For last time Toby, knock it off. Please.

- Wonder, Stevie, Ep. 12. You literally cannot be alive and not know who this is so let's just get to it: Jack plays Stevie's song "Uptight" to get the babies to kick. (They do.) It plays again later, as a very pregnant Rebecca duct tapes flip-flops to her feet so she can waddle to the store in order to get ingredients to make Jack a birthday cake.


- "You Can Call Me Al," Ep. 8. The Paul Simon song that's playing as Randall's alarm goes off way too damn early in the morning on Thanksgiving -- his favorite holiday.

- "You Are My Sunshine," Ep. 16. Universally loved song from the Great American Songbook we saw William's dad singing to him as a baby in a flashback.


- Z Cavaricci, Ep. 15. The brand of awesomely '90s jeans Toby admits to owning in high school.

This Is Us returns in the fall, and will air Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.