"You'll be remembered among the great scientists: Newton, Einstein, Sulak."
See, the first two establish the caliber of scientists we're talking about. Sure, you've never heard of the third one (Trekkies notwithstanding), but if he's on the same list as Newton and Einstein, he has to have cured cancer or something, right? It helps keep the story rooted in the real world as we know it.
"Let's play a game like Chess, or Monopoly, or Bleep Glorp. Or Jenga."
Why They Should Stop:
There's something corny about the way they always start the list off with something that happened close to the time when the show was made, rather than starting close to when the characters are supposed to live. It would be like starting off your genocidal references with the Jerusalem massacre of 1099 rather than the Holocaust.
Also, how often is it that you list more than one past reference in a single sentence? "This kid is great, he'll be the next Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James!"
We do have to give credit to Firefly, which largely avoided this. The series takes place in the wake of a massive (failed) war for independence, of which two main characters are veterans, so most historical references are from that war, with the exception being a (very) educated doctor referencing Ancient Egypt.