Four top picks for your winter TV calendar

The holidays are over, the nights are long and it's time to cozy up to winter TV.  Some must-see choices from USA TODAY.

Big Little Lies (HBO)

Feb. 19 (Sundays, 9 ET/PT)

This soapy murder mystery, based on Liane Moriarty’s 2014 bestseller, is a high-end, dramatic Desperate Housewives, and a departure for HBO.  The limited series stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern as intense mothers of first-graders in Monterey, Calif. (subbing for Australia in the book), who don’t get along so well. (And their husbands, neither). Shailene Woodley plays the new mom in town, protecting her ostracized son, and Zoë Kravitz is the yoga-teaching second wife to queen-bee Reese's ex.

The wrinkle:  We don’t know the identities of the murder victim, or the killer, until the end of the seven-episode series, adapted by David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice) and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club). Instead, the plot is “a pretext to solve the mystery by following a bunch of families raising kids and trying to find their happiness,” Vallée says. —Gary Levin

Legion (FX)

Feb. 8 (Wednesdays, 10 ET/PT)

Fargo mastermind Noah Hawley enters the Marvel universe with his latest adaptation, the story of troubled and talented David Haller (Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens), who has schizophrenia, superpowers or both.

Legion’s pilot takes a surreal, trippy journey into David’s mind, with flashing lights, disembodied voices, flashbacks, leading to a groundshifting uncertainty about where he and viewers are. Based on Hawley's Fargo performance, puzzled viewers should give him time to unfurl this non-traditional superpower saga.

The institutionalized, medicated David, who has ties to the X-Men world, whiles away time with fellow patient Lenny (a delightfully loony Aubrey Plaza), but his encounter with a captivating new patient, Syd (Fargo’s Rachel Keller), makes him wonder whether the voices he hears and the visions he sees are real.

“It’s going to stay true to the spirit of the (comic) books," Hawley says, but like Fargo,  "I might not be as literal about the things you know about the stories.” — Bill Keveney

Riverdale (CW)

Jan. 26 (Tuesdays, 9 ET/PT)

The Archie Comics gang gets a WB-style makeover – Archie (KJ Apa) boasts abs and an illicit affair with hot young music teacher Ms. Grundy – in a live-action adaptation that adds a murder mystery to the small-town wholesomeness.

“The show is going to be a lot darker than what you’d expect, (but) still pretty humorous,” Apa says.

Archie & Co. get a contemporary update: Riverdale channels a surreal streak, Jughead (Cole Sprouse) is a bit more complicated and three African-American teens play Josie and the Pussycats. (Luke Perry and Molly Ringwald, no strangers to teen dramas, play Archie’s parents.)

For longtime fans worried the series may veer too far from its roots, executive producers Greg Berlanti (Arrow, Supergirl and The Flash) and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, chief creative officer of Archie Comics, may offer comfort.

And Archie still can’t decide between sweet Betty (Lili Reinhart) and rich Veronica (Camila Mendes). By the end of the season, “Archie possibly makes his mind up between (Betty and Veronica),” Aguirre-Sacasa says. “But who knows how long it’s going to last — Bill Keveney

The Good Fight (CBS All Access)

Feb. 19 (Sundays; premiere episode also airs on CBS, 8 ET/PT)

Uh-oh, things are going to get nasty for some characters from The Good Wife.

The canceled CBS drama's digital spinoff promises a world of trouble involving high-profile Chicago attorney Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), who has been forced out of her old firm and must recover her reputation.

Picking up a year after the Good Wife finale, the 10-episode series follows Lockhart and her goddaughter Maia (Rose Leslie) who join Good Wife alum Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) at another Chicago law firm.

Maia is key to the series. She just passed the bar and faces "many of the challenges that Alicia Florrick faced in the original The Good Wife," said creators Robert and Michelle King via email. "We wanted to bring a new character into the show, because we wanted to see our world through fresh eyes.  We also wanted to follow someone who was just starting out in the law." — Lorena Blas


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