Not even Bette Davis' imperious scowl or pained wince can pump life into "White Mama," a two-hour fantasy about a white widow taking in a paroled black juvenile offender, which aris tonight at 9 on Channel 9.
To begin with, the story is pure malarkey. Why would a genteel widow living in a New York slum want to endure the taunts and insults of a know-it-all 16-year-old who's bounced around from home to home?
Ostensibly, it's because she needs the court-designated support benefits. But that seems implausible, considering what the kid puts her through.
Nevertheless, Estelle Malaone (Davis) tries to humanize B. T. Williamson (Ernest Harden Jr.). She unsuccessfully tries to enroll him in school, teaches him about family traditions like leaving a light on for those coming home late and makes him throw away his burglary tools.
They start building mutual trust and faith. But the process seems artificial, as they move about in her apartment, rarely interacting with other people.
Their world starts crumbling when she finds out her building will be demolished to make way for urban renewal. So this tough woman who's willing to take on a delinquent is rendered helpless about how to reconstruct her life.
He steals her furniture. She becomes a bag lady. But after two weeks he returns just in time to rush her to a hospital, saving her from a pneumonia-related death. Subsequently, he takes severe punishment in a boxing match, earning enough money to pay her rent in a dilapidated building.
The program fades out melodramatically with the boy entering the army. The questions linger. Why would a little old lady put herself through such hell? Why would an illiterate black kid sacrifice himself for a forlorn cause?
Surely TV can dramatize human opposites in a more believable way.