Netflix's latest original series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is a charming comedic gem by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Starring Elle Kemper, Titus Burgess and Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable kicks off when Kimmy is rescued from an underground bunker in Indiana, where she and three other girls were held captive for 15 years as part of a doomsday cult. Choosing not to perceive herself as a victim (or allow others to impose that label upon her), Kimmy sets out to start a brand new life in New York City, armed with nothing but her boundless enthusiasm and her favorite Adventures in Babysitting book.
A feel-good, quirky, and whip-smart comedy, Unbreakable is chockfull of pop culture references — like those we’ve amassed here:
1. 1. Buddy the Elf’s Arrival in New York City
In 2003's Elf, Buddy the Elf traveled from his North Pole home to NYC, making his way through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, past the sea of twirly-swirly gumdrops, and finally walking through the Lincoln Tunnel to his final destination. Once there, he marveled at everything with the wide-eyed wondrousness of a curious toddler. In a similarly adorable way, after deciding to stay in New York rather than return to Indiana, Kimmy embarks on her adventure with the widest of smiles, armed with a purple Jansport backpack and a pair of light-up Skechers sneakers. Like Buddy, she’s amazed by every new discovery — whether it’s a motion-activated bathroom sink faucet, shark-shaped gummy candies from Dylan’s Candy Bar, or a ride in the subway. In a world with so many cynics and naysayers, it’s refreshing to encounter Kimmy’s unbridled optimism and the excitement with which she approaches every new experience.
2. 2. The Auto-Tuned Viral Video Starring Ariel Castro Neighbor Charles Ramsey
In the pilot, Kimmy and her fellow “Indiana mole women” are rescued from the bunker where they’d been held captive for 15 years. News cameras rush to the scene, quickly making their way to Walter Bankston, a neighbor who offers his account of the police rescue. The subsequent “interview” plays as an auto-tune song, a musical wink-wink to the viral news report parodies created by the Gregory Brothers — among them the “Dead Giveaway” tune the duo created using the 2013 footage of reporters interviewing Charles Ramsey, the neighbor of Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro who was responsible for discovering and rescuing the women. This, of course, is no coincidence since show creators enlisted the Gregory Brothers to turn the interview scene they’d written into a catchy auto-tuned creation.
3. 3. Pee-Wee’s Playhouse
When Kimmy lands a job as a babysitter with the wealthy but dysfunctional Voorhies family, she’s forced to endure constant power struggles with her boss’s rebellious, sass-prone stepdaughter Xanthioppe. But Kimmy’s not one to resort to foul language, hurtful taunts, or unladylike behavior. So, when Xanthioppe asks Kimmy, “Why are you so weird?” Kimmy responds by taking a page out of Pee-Wee Herman’s playbook, countering with, “Why am I rubber and you’re glue?” The retort goes way over young Xanthioppe’s head, but ‘80s kids know precisely what Kimmy meant: any insults would bounce right off of her and stick right back to Xan!
4. 4. The Human Centipede
In Episode 3, while on a very strange date with a seemingly senile WWII veteran, Kimmy recalls how the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne once braided the hair of all four mole women together, calling the final result a “braidipede.” The comment makes a subtle but effective reference to the horror film The Human Centipede, in which a deranged scientist kidnaps three tourists and attempts to create a human centipede by forcing them to get on all fours, lining them up, and sewing the last two victims’ mouths to the rectum of the person before them (it’s even more gross and disturbing than it sounds!).
5. 5. New Jersey Tan Mom
When Kimmy accompanies her roommate, aspiring actor and singer Titus Andromedon, to visit an agent, he recognizes her within seconds and quickly asks, “Have you discussed life rights, reality show, porno?” He then delivers his sales pitch. “Remember New Jersey tanning Mom? I can do that for you!” This, of course, is a reference to New Jersey mother Patricia Krentcil, who became a household name in 2012, when she was accused of taking her 5-year-old daughter into a tanning booth and news reports surfaced showing images of the tanning-addicted Krentcil and her leathery skin. Dubbed the “Tan Mom” in the media, Krentcil milked her 15 minutes of fame, gtracing the pages of In Touch (they dared her to go two weeks without tanning), working the talk show circuit, inspiring an orange-faced “Tanorexic” doll, and starring in a series of YouTube videos to raise awareness about skin cancer. Thankfully, Kimmy goes a different route, choosing not to turn her personal grief into a source of insta-fame.
6. 6. Breaking Bad
When Titus is told he’s too flamboyant to play the straight Dr. Van Peeples, a Dr. Frankenstein-esque mad scientist, he enlists the help of “Straight Coach” M. Le Loup, who his colleague says will help him play more macho characters and avoid being typecast. With the tone and demeanor of a drill sergeant, Le Loup (played by Dean Norris, known for his role as Hank in Breaking Bad) promises to transform Titus into someone who “can eat wings on the crapper.” Later, to observe Titus incognito as he tries to pass for straight, Le Loup disguises himself as a horned, antelope-like creature that will blend into the Jekyll & Hyde-inspired theater/restaurant in which Titus works. The kicker: the supernatural creature is clad in —what else? — a Hazmat suit like the one donned by Bryan Cranston in his role as a horned, antelope-like creature Walter White.
7. 7. Columbia House Record Club
Remember in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when Columbia House Record Club promised members CDs or cassette tapes for only a penny, then slammed them with massive shipping and handling bills, demanded they buy numerous full-priced albums within a limited number of months, and sent unpaid bills to collection agents in the blink of an eye? Well, the show pokes fun at all of those who, like Titus and Kimmy, were naïve enough to fall for the mail-order scam and also charms those of us in an older age bracket (while speaking to Kimmy being out of touch with modern-day pop culture) by peppering in dated reference to such phenomena as mail-order cassette tapes . Early in the series, when mentioning his financial woes, Titus laments, “I can't exactly quit my job! I've still got bills to pay. If I stop paying Columbia House, I stop getting my tapes." A few episodes later, Kimmy rejoices when they receive a package from Columbia House Records containing the Rain Man soundtrack.
8. 8. Soul Cycle
Does it sometimes feel like people are a bit too obsessive about their spinning classes? Well, when Kimmy joins a SpiritCycle class led by the charismatic Tristafé (played by Nick Kroll), she’s enchanted by his encouraging mantras (“There is no world outside of this room. This time is a sacrifice at the altar of you!”), the “honor” of moving up to a row further I the front, the intimate feel of the candlelit-room, and the exclusivity of the experience. Soon enough, however, she realizes her new fitness class is a different type of cult — and one led by a complete fraud.
9. 9. Friends
When studying for the math portion of her upcoming GED exam, Kimmy enlists the help of her classmate Dong and the two quickly form a friendship. As they talk about New York hot spots and landmarks they’ve visited, Dong confesses he’s always wanted to check out the fountain featured in the opening sequence of Friends. The two venture to Central Park, where Kimmy says the fountain is located and reenact much of the series’ opening sequence — replete with water splashing and umbrellas. Unfortunately, a police officer informs them the real fountain is located in a studio in Burbank. Oops!