Whatever joy people derive from true crime—theories on the reasons for said thrill vary—will likely be absent when they watch the limited docuseries Jared from Subway: Catching a Monster. All who have the stomach to enter may not have the endurance to finish the three-part “event,” which airs Monday on ID and hits the Discovery+ streaming service on the same day. In chronicling the downfall of former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle, who in 2015 pleaded guilty to possessing child sex abuse material and traveling to have sex with a minor, Monster contains, per a title card that opens every segment, “graphic discussions and actual audio recordings of a child predator that are disturbing in nature.” That downplays the can’t-unsee (slash -unhear) nature of much of what’s presented.
This isn’t to say that Jared from Subway: Catching a Monster is bad or ineffective. It’s just relentlessly unpleasant. Given its subject matter, this is tragically appropriate. While there is palpable sensationalism at times—especially in the pre-commercial break teases of more explicit stories of abuse, accompanied by jarring music cues, all designed to keep you watching—this is a well-told account of one of the most shocking falls from grace in recent pop culture history.
The rise itself was bizarre. Fogle’s pipeline from media sensation to fast-food pitchman was the result of him losing some 245 pounds in a year. He attributed his weight loss to a diet consisting mostly of Subway sandwiches—this was the late ‘90s, when the low-fat craze had not yet loosened its grip on the diet industry. Suddenly he was everywhere, a real pop cultural phenomenon in a time of Harry Potter and “Is that your final answer?” Fogle traveled to schools, preaching to kids the virtues of making “healthy choices.” In 2004, he established the Jared Foundation for the sake of fighting childhood obesity. By 2013, he was said to be worth $15 million.
“It was like people seeing Michael Jackson, that’s really the way it was,” is how journalist Rochelle Herman describes a crowd reaction to Fogle that she witnessed firsthand. Herman had a radio show in Sarasota, Florida, and was contacted in 2006 by the American Heart Association to interview Fogle. After a second interview, the two started hanging out. Then, Fogle caught her off guard during a filmed school appearance one day, she recalls in Monster, when he leaned over and told her how hot he thought middle school girls were. She says that for the sake of teasing out “what other deviant things he might want to share,” she began a (mostly) telephonic relationship with him that lasted several years. At times he called her “incessantly,” and the arc that Monster paints is one of increasing intensity, in which Fogle went from expressing attraction to children to recounting raping them to instructing Herman to groom her children and her children’s friends for him. Herman says that introducing her daughter, Angela, to him before she had any indication of his predatory nature was nonetheless “like putting your children in the mouth of a shark.”
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Monster is largely Herman’s story—that is, she recounts her conversations with Fogle at length. Via her, we probe inside the mind of an abuser. Herman describes her scheme to extract information from Fogle as a “honey trap,” as it required more playing along than the average person could tolerate. Herman says she was driven by justice and the protection of children, and for a stretch she worked with the FBI to take Fogle down. (When the intended outcome failed to materialize, she went to the local cops to describe the feds’ inaction.) Several disturbing clips from Herman’s investigation play throughout Monster.
This is not the first time she’s shared her detective work with the media—she played excerpts of her archive that spanned four years on a 2015 episode of Dr. Phil—but the long-form nature of Monster make it something of an endurance test that I can’t exactly recommend. Not only is the material brutal, but self-conscious reminders of the luridness of such material are everywhere. Repeatedly, Herman will telegraph that she’s about to reveal something disgusting, which is supposed to keep you glued to the TV through the commercial break. I guess, “Stick around for more descriptions of child abuse, we’ll be back after these messages,” would have been vulgar. But it’s almost at that level. At one point, while recounting a conversation about a trip Fogle took to Thailand, Herman says, “When I heard what Jared was telling me, my soul was blackened.” Then we go to break. When we’re back, we hear Fogle say, “We can get whatever age we want. It’s just crazy. It’s easy over there.” It’s the kind of thing that makes you not at all glad you stuck around.
Herman’s narrative is intertwined with that of two survivors of Fogle’s predation, young women named Hannah and Christian, who were the stepdaughters of Russell Taylor, the executive director of the Jared Foundation. Taylor sent Fogle child sex abuse material, some of which he shot himself by surreptitiously recording his stepdaughters and their friends via hidden camera. Taylor was sentenced to 27 years in prison last year for molestation and his recordings. His wife, Angela Baldwin, Hannah and Christian’s mother, was sentenced to 33 years. “She just was not a good mom. She was not a good mother,” says Christian, whose story is utterly heartbreaking.
Herman was clearly no expert on pedophilia and she based her calls on her gut. Ultimately, her efforts had negligible impact on taking down Fogle. But her intuition turned out to be correct: Fogle did abuse minors and his collection of child sex abuse material facilitated the abuse of more, indirectly. In Monster, an interviewer asks her how she knew that the conversations with Fogle weren’t just fantasy. She replies, “What Jared did was not fantasy. What he said, what he confessed to, what he shared, what he wanted to do—that was real.” He was eventually nabbed after Taylor’s arrest (itself the result of text messages Taylor sent to a woman regarding bestiality). Because Herman’s recordings did not hold proof of any direct abuse, at best they maybe influenced the judge to hand down a sentence that exceeded the prosecutor’s recommendation.
Fogle’s earliest possible release will be in 2029. Subway’s culpability, given Herman’s intel and other reports it received, is briefly debated in Monster, though ultimately hard to pin down. And Hannah and Christian, we learn, were just the tip of the iceberg. It’s repeated that Fogle had 14 known victims, though the docuseries does not enumerate them or the crimes committed against them. That’s probably for the best.